If you ask Manhattan High head football coach Joe Schartz about Jonah Webber, he’ll say there’s not a lot the senior can’t do on a football field.
Accordingly, Schartz uses Webber as a starter at linebacker, a back-up at running back and has him handle all of Manhattan’s punting.
When asked about Webber’s abilities should the need arise for a trick play on special teams, Schartz even touted the senior’s ability to throw the ball.
“I mentioned that he plays baseball, and Jonah throws a nice football,” he said. “He’s very talented. I don’t know that there’s much he can’t do on the football field. He can run, catch, pass, punt and play great defense.
“He’s quite a football player.”
To be fair, Webber is seldom used on offense. But he’s in his second year as a starting linebacker and has thrived in the position.
“He moves really well as a linebacker,” Schartz said. “He’s not the biggest, but he’s sure got a big heart. We really could utilize him more on offense — I know he could come in at anytime and do what we needed to do offensively. We haven’t used him much because he means so much to us on the defensive side of the ball.”
Webber also has the privilege, or the burden, depending on how you look at it, of having his father on the Manhattan football coaching staff. Jim Webber, who played linebacker for former coach Lew Lane in the mid-80s, has coached the defensive line for more than a decade.
“I’d say it’s harder, because he pushes me really hard and tries to make me the best I can,” Jonah said of his father being a coach. “I understand that, it’s good and it helps, but sometimes it’s tough. I know it’s for the good, though.”
Jim said he took more of a hands-off approach in Jonah’s early years playing football, so as not to pressure him into playing if he didn’t want to.
“I kind of stayed out of that as much as I could,” Jim said. “I stayed away from it, let him do it, let his coaches coach him and stayed pretty hands-off.”
These days, Jim offers any advice he can, though he admits the linebacker position has changed a bit from when he played.
“I think football was so different 30 years ago,” Jim said. “We might have had two coverages back in my day, and I didn’t even know what they were. Now, (the linebackers) are involved in all the coverages, so they have to know what’s going on, a lot more than I did.”
After being thrown into the fire a bit as a junior, Jonah and teammate Troy Ward have been solid at linebacker in their second year as starters. The Manhattan defense has easily been the team’s biggest strength as the Indians prepare for Topeka West tonight at Bishop Stadium.
Jonah has also been solid in his punting duties, helping his cause on defense by pinning opponents to the other side of the field when the offense sputters.
Jim said an impromptu punting clinic by Kansas State assistant and former all-america punter Sean Snyder indirectly helped Jonah learn the skill.
“I remember Sean Snyder, when I was on the ninth-grade staff, he came down and gave us some pointers about punters and punting — taught our kids how to punt a little bit,” Jim said. “So I went home and Jonah wasn’t very old, I told him this is how Sean says to do it. And he kind of took that and ran with it.”
Jonah, who was an All-Centennial League punter last season, said it wasn’t until high school that he began seriously considering the job.
“I’ve always punted a little bit, but when I got to high school I realized maybe I could actually punt for the team,” he said. “So then I started taking it a little more seriously.”
Jonah said the hardest part about punting is the responsibility he shoulders.
“If you mess up, it’s your fault,” he said. “If you make a bad punt, it’s your fault. You can’t blame a bad punt on anyone else. You’re held accountable for how well you punt it, where you punt it, everything.”
Schartz said having Jonah as punter is a luxury.
“He has a really nice leg, and you can tell when he’s on — there’s been multiple times he’s been a weapon for us,” he said. “Not only has the defense played well, but when the offense has been struggling, Jonah has the ability to change the field position with his punting.”
Jonah is a two-sport athlete, also playing baseball for coach Don Hess in the spring. He missed out on his junior season after tearing his MCL in a skiing accident over the winter.
“It was hard to watch the team play without being able to play with them,” Jonah said. “With my brace on I don’t even notice — I feel normal. I’m obviously a little slower — the brace holds me back a little bit, but other than that I feel good. Without my brace on, I wouldn’t play football, because it’s just not the same.”
Jonah, who makes excellent grades, still hasn’t decided his plans for after high school.
“I’m still undecided — it’s a big choice,” he said. “It’s a choice between if I want to play or if I want to go to school. I haven’t made up my mind yet, whether to end it in high school or continue on. I could probably go and play somewhere if I wanted to. Just because of my grades I could walk on somewhere.”