At any level, pee-wee, middle school, high school, college or the National Football League, the quarterback position is always one of the toughest, if not the toughest position to play. They are not only looked at as the leader of the offense, but also the face of the program. And the quarterback is no doubt the most important player on the offense, as they are often looked upon to navigate a team through tough situations.
Justin Jensen has been the varsity quarterback for the Havre High Blue Ponies for two years now. And while he stands at just 5-7 and 155 pounds, he isn’t the biggest athlete to take the field, but having his hand in three school records, he does usually have the biggest heart and competitive edge on the field.
“Jensen has come a long way from last year to this year,” Havre High head coach Jason Christenson said. “He has really matured and become a great leader and an intelligent player. It is rare for quarterback at the Class A level to be able to recognize and read defenses well enough to make checks and audibles like he does, and that just comes form his maturity and how much he has grown. He is just a great kid and works his butt off, and does a phenomenal job.”
Jensen has been a football player and quarterback since the seventh grade. He grew up a Minnesota Vikings fan, watching professional quarterbacks like Daunte Culpepper, who was at the Vikings’ helm from 1999-2005. And while his love of the sport continued to grow, Jensen’s football knowledge also continued to grow.
Being the No. 1 QB of a varsity football tam is tough, especially at Havre High where the position has been filled with some of the state's best athletes over the years. But Jensen knew that is exactly what he wanted to be when he got his shot. And Jensen got his first shot as a sophomore when he filled in for then starter C.J. Evans. Jensen’s first start came against the Butte Central Maroons, one of the toughest teams in the Central A at the time. But it didn’t take long for Jensen’s nerves to clear and for him to feel as if he was in the right spot.
“I am not a very big guy,” Jensen said. “The first thing I was thinking was how big are these dudes and how hard are they going to hit me? I am a 5-7 155-pound midget out there compared to a lot other kids. But it was nerve racking and the best feeling you can get all at the same time. The adrenaline rush is so great that you almost don’t feel anything.”
That was Jensen’s first experience under center. And suffering a 27-21 loss, Jensen played well none-the-less, going 4-of-10 for 97-yards and a 47-yard touchdown pass. But even with the fairly decent debut, giving fans a glimpse of the future, Jensen has taken huge strides since then.
Former Havre High Quarterbacks like Matt Kegel, Dan Wirtzberger, Justin Kegel and Gary Wagner will always be remembered as some of the Ponies' top quarterbacks from the recent past. But taking a look at Jensen’s career and some of his numbers, he too could be in the mix for years to come.
“He has a lot of confidence and that comes from his ability,” Christenson said. “He is probably one of the most accurate quarterbacks I have seen in a long time. It is rare that he is missing his targets, and that shows, having only three interceptions compared to 28 touchdowns this season. He still isn’t done and that ratio is remarkable. He is just a smart quarterback and knows how to attack a defense.”
As his career winds down, with just the post season left, Jensen has been a starter for two years. He has missed just a handful of games due to injury, but has his name forever in the record books. Last year against Whitefish Jensen passed for 357 yards to set the HHS single-game passing record. And this year Jensen tied Justin Kegal’s passing record for completions when he was 21-of-23 against Belgrade.
Jensen is also a major reason why the Ponies got in the record books two other times this season. Facing Libby, the Ponies racked up 708 total yards to set a school record. And also against Belgrade, Ryan Brandt tied the school record with 11 receptions, all coming from Jensen.
And the fact that Jensen was able to get into the record books shows his work ethic over the years. When he took over the reigns for the Blue Ponies that was one of his goals, knowing he needed to be the best player he could be if he was going to lead a team to success.
“I needed to get the respect from my team to follow me,” Jensen said. “That is what it takes to make great things happen like we have done this year. Any players’ dream is to get into the record books, but I also had to get my confidence up, I knew I needed that and that would lead to my teammates respect. Those were my first two big goals because if I didn’t get those I wouldn’t go anywhere. It is like my dad said, I am at the top of the Havre High record books and there have been a lot of amazing quarterbacks to come out of here. There have been so many years with great quarterbacks, and statistically I am near the top, and I can’t even put that into words how cool that is and how cool it is follow such a long line of great quarterbacks.”
And Jensen’s journey isn’t over yet. He still has the 2011 Class A playoffs, and fully plans to make the most of it. He has led the Ponies to a great year already, including a No. 1 seed out of the Central A and also earned a first-round bye and a favorable road through the postseason.
But this is what Jensen loves about the sport and about his position. Jensen is a leader and loves center stage, and he won’t be 100 percent satisfied if his mark doesn’t help his team succeed this year, as well as years to come.
“I have always liked to be a leader,” Jensen said. I am the captain on my hockey team and I am a captain now and when I was in middle school and a freshman. But every quarterback is different, even me and Zach Plum (HHS backup quarterback) have totally different personalities. I don’t think you have to be a certain type of person to be a quarterback, I just think you have to know what you are doing and listen to your coaches. They have all been there before, so obliviously they know what they are talking about. And we don’t want to be good for just one year, we want to be good for multiple years. Hopefully if we do well in the playoffs like we are supposed to, hopefully that will keep the ball rolling a bit. When the 2004 team won the state championship, things didn't go well for the next couple of years. We don’t want that.”