By Nate Thompson
FRUITPORT — There’s no question Jarod Wierengo has made a name for himself the past two seasons as the quarterback of the Fruitport varsity football team.
But his actual name leaves radio play-by-play announcers, or opposing school public address announcers, a little fuzzy. And to be fair, more than a few local sports writers have spelled it wrong, as well.
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard it (pronounced incorrectly) quite a bit,” Wierengo said. “A lot of people try to pronounce it ‘Wear-anga,’ which is funny because there’s no ‘a’ in my name. And with my first name, I’ve heard it called ‘Jay Rod,’ a lot, like it needs a hyphen in between.”
Regardless of how one cares to spell or pronounce his name, one thing is for certain: opponents rarely forget him after playing against Fruitport on the football field.
Wierengo has turned in a stellar season for Fruitport, which at 4-3 faces two must-win games against St. John’s and DeWitt if the Trojans want to qualify for the Division 3 playoffs.
Fruitport Coach Greg Vargas has adapted the Trojans’ offense to efficiently utilize Wierengo’s dual-threat skill set. Out of the spread attack, he’s rushed for a team-high 563 yards and 12 touchdowns. Through the air, Wierengo has used his strong arm to throw for 468 yards and five more scores.
“He’s a much different looking player compared to last year,” Vargas said. “We got him running a little more as the year progressed last year, but he struggled with the zone read. Just struggles in reading what the opposing defensive players were going to do. But with more experience, he’s become more comfortable. He’s got the knack of it now.
“He’s done a great job with his legs, so we made it a focus of getting him more involved.”
While the 6-foot-2, 187-pound Wierengo said he’s been proud of what he’s accomplished at quarterback, he’s also quick to admit that the offense, under his leadership, has left some points off the board, due to key mistakes, or not executing down the stretch.
That was painstakingly evident during the Trojans’ Week 6 loss to Muskegon Catholic. The Trojans had the defending Division 8 state champions on the ropes throughout most of the contest, but the Crusaders pulled out the 29-26 come-from-behind victory on a touchdown pass with 51 seconds to play.
A win would have put Fruitport in the driver’s seat for a Lakes 8 Conference championship and a berth in the playoffs. But Wierengo admits even if the Trojans fall short of their playoff dreams, he won’t consider this a disappointing season.
“No, because we did a lot of good things,” he said. “Beating Spring Lake both years is something I’ll always remember. Yeah, we’ve left some scores off the board, but I’ve felt it’s been a good season, especially considering the competition we’ve faced.
“It’s been good for the juniors, getting them ready to lead the way next year.”
Wierengo’s strong leadership is a trait that Vargas notices often.
He’s seen in during off-season weight lifting sessions in which Wierengo has been a regular, despite the fact that he plays summer baseball. And Vargas has witnessed it throughout this season, when Wierengo vocally inspires his teammates often.
“He’s a great kid to be around,” Vargas said. “He’s likes to keep things light, but when he steps onto the field, there’s a hard edge to him. He doesn’t like to lose. The Catholic week illustrates a ton of those traits.
“I remember in pregame I pulled him aside and told him, ‘You know Jarod, you’ve gotta be the man for us tonight. You’re the one that makes us go. And he was just shaking his head, saying ‘Yeah coach, Yeah.’ And on our first drive, he carried the ball once or twice, then zipped one (51 yards) to the end zone. And I’m on the sideline thinking, ‘All right, here we go.’
“Sometimes kids struggle when the level of competition changes. Jarod isn’t one of them.”
Wierengo’s athletic career almost never began. He said he dropped a heavy weight on his foot when he in second or third grade, and the accident created a lot of scar tissue and excess blood flow to his foot.
“It was kinda scary, because I needed a couple surgeries before it got back to normal,” he said. “It would just keep getting bigger and bigger.”
But the injury didn’t prevent him from developing his love of football on the Beach Elementary youth squad. It was there that a bond was first created with many of his current teammates.
“I think all but three kids on our starting offense were on that team,” he said. “These are my friends I’ve grown up with.”
Wierengo committed to play baseball at Muskegon Community College a couple weeks ago, and hopes to start at catcher for the Jayhawks. But football will always stoke his competitive fire.
“Baseball is the sport I love, but football is the greatest team sport there is,” he said.