Giving back: Preston Kroeber doing his part for the Blue Jays
Preston Kroeber, a former standout for the Jamestown High School football team, is now calling plays for the 2022 JHS football team.
JAMESTOWN — Preston Kroeber has been putting the miles on his car this fall but it's been worth it.
Kroeber, a Jamestown High School Class of 2022 graduate and former standout for the JHS football and track and field teams, has traveled back from the University of North Dakota to take in each of the 10 JHS football games.
"I had honestly just showed up to their first game and decided to hop up in the booth with my dad to watch, and it all really began from there," Kroeber said. "I wanted to do this because the program has been a part of me nearly my entire life from being a ball boy to playing, and now to watching and helping out.
"I really think it is beneficial to have someone similar to me who has been in their shoes before and can have a peer view," he said. "I think it’s also a reminder of what these boys know they are capable of doing, even with a new group."
Through the 2021 Class A State semifinals, Kroeber was tagged as the Blue Jays' second-leading receiver. He hauled in 30 catches for 387 yards for an average of 35 yards per game. The all-state sprinter also pushed for 99 yards rushing on 18 carries.
On defense, he was pinned as the team's third-leading tackler with 34 solo and 54 total tackles. He also picked off opposing quarterbacks three times.
Prior to playing at the varsity level, Kroeber was a ball boy for the Jays and was an almost constant presence at Ernie Gates Field with his father and current wide receivers coach, Phil Kroeber.
"This experience has been extremely beneficial because I’ve always just been a player, but now can become more two-dimensional and get a better understanding from both perspectives — a player's and a coach's," Kroeber said. "I’ve learned more about the coaching aspect of football, how to communicate from a different view, the reasons why certain things happen during the game and how coaches go around doing things."
While Kroeber is only in his first semester at UND, he was already been thinking about what his career path might look like and he wouldn't be surprised if it involves coaching in some capacity.
"I want to pass along my experience to players, watch them develop, and most importantly see them have fun doing it," he said. "This program, town, sport, and school have been a large part of my life and I’d love to keep propelling (the program) forward.
"It’s (also) a good opportunity for me to be in an environment I know well and learn all the moving parts that truly go into every Friday night," Kroeber said. "Anytime I can sit down and talk or watch football with those boys or my dad is always a good time."
Kroeber has targeted seniors Jackson Walters, Payton Hochhalter and Colton Mewes as the benefactors of his advice.
"We knew him well from baseball," Walters said. "When I was learning my wide receiver stuff, he was a pretty easy person to talk to right away. He was really willing to help me out.
"It was a couple of Sundays where we started working together and then Payton started coming with us. He's been really helpful. We played with him for a long time through multiple sports so we have a personal connection with him. It's really easy to go through any questions we might have with him. He's really easy to talk to so we are able to figure out the problems together."
Whatever Kroeber's doing certainly seems to benefit Walters as he has been the most popular receiving target this season. Through the state quarterfinals, Walters has hauled 35 catches for 759 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"Every time that we look up and he's up there we're like, 'let's go!'" Walters said. "I go and talk to him and Coach (Phil) Kroeber at halftime to see what we need to change with the offense. They always have helpful tips for what we can do to change things up and we usually end up doing better the second half which is always the main goal."
Kroeber offers not only the cerebral but also the physical to the trio of Blue Jay seniors.
On the weekends when the three go to the field to work on running and throwing different routes, Kroeber offers himself up as another receiving target to practice on.
"We joke that he's the old guy but he's able to move around still," Walters said with a laugh. "He's not one of those coaches who can't run anymore — he's still got that young body."
"He helps both of us," Hochhalter added. "He helps Jackson crisp his routes a little bit and then gives me a different look downfield. He tells us about other routes we can run if something happens. It's nice having him there."
Kroeber said being a peer presence has provided him a great opportunity to watch Walters, Hochhalter and Mewes develop even further. Head coach Bill Nelson said it is certainly helpful to the coaching staff to have a member of the state championship team — who's one year removed from playing — in their corner observing and communicating with current players.
"He's been a sports junkie all of his life and football has been a huge part of that," Nelson said. "It's really cool when you look at the year that he had last year for us and now he's turned around and is helping out these guys. It's worked out for him to come to every game and he does it of his own accord. It's been good."