GLASTONBURY >> The facial features and the familiar smile are nearly identical, the vocal inflection as well. And when he constantly shifts credit from himself to his teammates in postgame interviews, it’s obvious that Jalen Ollie has learned well from his father.
But watching him march his team down field in crunch time, doing everything he can with his arms, legs and vocal leadership to ensure victory, is when it’s most apparent that Jalen Ollie is, indeed, Kevin Ollie’s son.
Such was the case last Saturday, when Ollie, Glastonbury’s senior quarterback, guided the Tomahawks to a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Hall in West Hartford. Down 14-0 after the first quarter and trailing 21-13 at the start of the fourth, Ollie engineered three fourth-quarter scoring drives – the final capped by his last-minute touchdown pass to Ethan Ericson – to guide Glastonbury to a 35-28 win.
“It’s about making plays,” Glastonbury coach Scott Daniels said afterwards. “Jalen made some plays with his legs. It came down to making plays, that’s what got us back into the game.”
Ollie’s imprint was all over the game, whether scampering for long runs on broken plays for key first downs or hitting open receivers for touchdowns. But it was his vocal leadership that stood out most – constantly shouting instructions to his teammates before and after plays, but not in a derisive way. In the way a team leader would.
The way his father would.
“He’s a senior now, he’s becoming more and more vocal, being more and more of a leader,” said Daniels. “The kids have responded to him. It’s all good.”
Said Jalen: “This is my last year playing football. That means I want to lead my team to the state championship. Everyone who plays with me, I want to do it with them. All of them. I just want to lead my team, that’s it.”
Kevin Ollie wasn’t at Saturday’s game (though his wife, Stephanie, was there), but watched the game afterwards on video and liked what he saw.
“He played very, very well,” Kevin said of his son. “He led his team. I was more proud of him leading his team like that.”
Kevin Ollie, of course, has been the consummate team leader wherever he’s played: as a two-time team captain on the mid-1990s UConn powerhouses that featured Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall & Co., throughout his journeyman, 13-year NBA career and, now, as UConn’s head coach.
Despite a postseason ban and other restrictions, Ollie willed the Huskies to 20 wins in his first season as head coach at any level last year. He gets just as much satisfaction out of watching his son display strong leadership skills, whether on the gridiron or the basketball court (where Jalen is also a fine player).
“That’s something we’ve been working on with him, too,” Ollie noted. “You’ve got to be more vocal. Last year, with (fellow quarterback) Ben Berey there, he kind of took a backseat. Now, you’ve got to step up in that leadership role. They’re looking at you as a senior and an elder statesman, that’s what you’ve got to do every day. I’m proud of him.”
Jalen and Berey (who’s now a receiver at Tufts) shared quarterbacking duties last season. But it was Berey who shouldered much of the responsibility and led the team, particularly with his running ability. Jalen was more a dropback passer.
Now, Jalen has to do a little of both. Or a lot of both, as was the case on Saturday.
“He can make plays when he needs to make plays with his legs. That’s a pleasant surprise,” said Daniels. “We were spoiled by Ben Berey’s legs last year, so going in we were thinking we weren’t going to get that. But Jalen’s been pretty darn good these first two games.”
Added Ollie: “He’s using his legs, using his arm. To be a dual threat, that’s good. He’s not Michael Vick or anything like that, but he can get out and escape. And he does have an arm, too, when he needs it.”
It’s enough to, at this point, garner Jalen a few looks from Division II and III schools. He’s getting similar looks in basketball, as well. He just turned 17, so there’s a good chance Jalen will hit prep school next year in hopes of landing an athletic scholarship somewhere.
Could he ever play for his father at UConn? That familiar smile spreads across Jalen’s face.
“The point of college is leaving your parents and stepping out,” he said with a laugh. “But, I love to see my dad. That’s my father, I love him. That’s one great season coming up. Shabazz (Napier), (Ryan) Boatright – all those guys are gonna have a real great season.”
All under the tutelage of a head coach who’s the consummate leader – and who’s helped raise a son who’s developing into quite the leader himself.