CHEYENNE – Jake Rayl put too much pressure on himself heading into his junior season.
He badly wanted to earn a spot as a wide receiver for Cheyenne East. A number of seniors also were vying for the spots, so he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. However, Rayl thought he could make a good impression as the Thunderbirds prepared for a trip to summer camp.
He struggled to consistently catch the ball.
“I was trying to prove myself, and I let that get into my head,” Rayl said. “I had been able to do all that stuff pretty easily my whole life, but I got in my own way last summer.”
Rayl earned a starting role on defense and continued to try to show what he could do as a receiver. The confidence he gained by seeing the field on defense, combined with his efforts during practice, helped him gain a bigger role on offense.
Rayl took another step in his development, and has been playing well for East this fall. There is no better example of that than what he did during Friday night’s 41-18 victory at Cheyenne Central.
The senior caught six passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns. Rayl also snared an interception to help the No. 3-ranked T-Birds hand top-ranked Central its first loss of the season.
Those efforts also earned Rayl Prep Athlete of the Week honors from WyoSports’ Cheyenne staff.
Rayl has caught 29 passes for 641 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He has had at least 133 receiving yards in two of his past three games.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that you need to get to the landmark you’re supposed to as a receiver,” Rayl said. “If every receiver is in the spot they’re supposed to be, they can’t all be covered. That’s what’s been working out for me.
“I’m just appreciative we have a good scheme, a quarterback in Graedyn (Buell) that can make any throw on the field, and a bunch of other good receivers who require attention from the defense.”
His 133 yards against Sheridan came on short and intermediate routes as the Broncs tried to take away the deep ball. Against Central, Rayl saw a lot of man-to-man coverage.
“He knows exactly what he needs to do, where he needs to be and what coverage the other team is running because he watches so much film,” Buell said. “We’re always on the same page, and he is always in the right spot and finding a way to get open.”
East coach Chad Goff often talks to his players about capitalizing on opportunities when they arise. Rayl has done just that, Goff said.
“With our receiving corps doing well as a whole, some of them are drawing single coverage, and some are drawing doubles,” Goff said. “(Rayl) has been able to capitalize when he is drawing single coverage, and he’s doing great things.”
Rayl’s interception came because he learned from a mistake he made while Buell ran the scout team during practice last week.
One of the looks Buell mimicked forced defensive backs to decide whether to leave their receiver and keep the quarterback from running the ball, or stay with their receiver and make the quarterback commit to carrying the ball.
Rayl went after Buell aggressively and nearly paid for it.
“He threw the ball right behind me to the receiver I had just left,” Rayl said. “Fortunately, it was an incomplete pass, but I realized I shouldn’t have come up to stop the run.”
Rayl saw Central senior quarterback Andy Cummins execute the same look Friday. Rayl stayed with Indians senior receiver Andrew Johnson before stepping in front of Johnson to snag the interception.
“I had it in my head to stay with the receiver, we got great pressure on the quarterback, and I was able to make the play,” Rayl said.
Goff called Rayl one of the smartest and well-prepared players on East’s roster.
“His ability to understand what’s going on because of film study and reps in practice is great,” Goff said. “He makes practice and watching film count. There’s a purpose for it, and he makes it work Friday nights.”
Others recognized for their efforts include:
– Graedyn Buell and Julian Vigil, football, East: Buell completed 15 of 24 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns during third-ranked East’s 41-18 win at No. 1 Cheyenne Central. He also rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Vigil grabbed an interception that he returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
– Izzy Delay, girls swimming, Cheyenne Central: The freshman won the 50-yard freestyle and placed second in the 100 free during a dual win over Cheyenne South. She won the 100 breaststroke and was second in the 100 butterfly during a dual loss to Laramie.
– Dani Beard, Alison Crock and Boden Liljedahl, volleyball, East: Beard posted 15 kills and 13 digs during the Lady Thunderbirds’ 3-1 win at Cheynene Central.
Crock dished out 32 assists to go with nine digs, while Liljedahl finished with 19 digs.
– Kylie Gallegos and Rylee Ward, volleyball, Burns: Gallegos notched 32 digs and 17 kills to help the Lady Broncs to wins over Pine Bluffs and Thermopolis.
Ward dished out 49 assists across those two matches. She also had 11 digs against Pine Bluffs.
– Andrew Johnson, football, Central: The senior caught 11 passes for 147 yards during the No. 1-ranked Indians’ 41-18 loss to third-ranked Cheyenne East.
– Brayden Kivisto, boys cross-country, Central: Kivisto won the Leroy Sprague Invitational in 16 minutes, 57.18 seconds.
– Stu Lerwick and Reed Thompson, football, Pine Bluffs: Lerwick completed 13 of 18 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown during the Hornets’ 29-8 win over visiting Wright. He also rushed for a pair of scores.
Thompson caught seven passes for 109 yards while also posting 12 tackles (six solo).