The Camas High School football team’s top passer and best runner will continue their careers at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division-I level.
On Oct. 16, quarterback Jake Blair announced that he accepted a preferred walk-on offer to Oregon State University (OSU). Exactly two weeks later, running back Jacques Badolato-Birdsell announced his decision to commit to the University of Nevada (UN).
Blair and Badolato-Birdsell helped lead the Papermakers to an undefeated 2019 season, which culminated with a victory in the 4A state championship game.
OSU ‘best place to develop as player and person’
Blair’s performance at an OSU football camp in the summer of 2019 attracted the attention of the Beavers’ coaching staff, especially offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. Blair quickly moved OSU to the top of his list of preferred schools, but after another quarterback announced his decision to commit to OSU in May, Blair didn’t hear much from the Beavers’ coaches for a while.
They didn’t entirely forget about him, however, and invited him to join the team as a preferred walk-on last month. Blair is guaranteed a spot on the OSU roster and will receive the same athletic and academic support that scholarship athletes receive, but can’t collect financial aid for at least one year.
“It was all about fit for me,” Blair said. “The offense, the coaches, the campus, the program — OSU was the best place for me to go for my college career. It’s close to home. My little brother has committed to OSU for baseball, and while that wasn’t the primary factor for me, it was an added bonus. Playing great football for a Pac-12 program (was appealing). OSU was the best place for me to go to develop as a player and also as a person.”
Blair held scholarship offers from Columbia University and Georgetown University, but couldn’t turn down OSU, which he called his “dream school.”
“I love it,” Camas coach Jon Eagle said. “Jake wants to play at the highest level, to test the waters, see how he can do. I love his confidence. OSU has a great group of coaches and a great program. Three former Camas players (Jack Colletto, Caleb Lightbourn and Dakota Napierkowski) are already there and doing a great job and are well thought of, and that matters, too. OSU coaches know that a Camas kid is a pretty good bet.”
Blair’s announcement came almost a year after he suffered a season-ending collarbone injury during Camas’ game against Skyview on Oct. 24, 2019. The Papermakers went on to win the 4A state championship, however, with Blair taking on a quasi-assistant coach role on the sidelines.
“I’ve been 100 percent for awhile,” he said. “I started throwing in December, January. It just took some time (for me to recover) after surgery. I did some physical therapy, just some lightweight movements to get my mobility back in there. But pretty soon it felt fine. If the state championship game was one week later, I would’ve been (ready to go).”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Blair threw for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns with a 66-percent completion rate in seven games during his junior season.
“The guy I look up to in the National Football League is (Houston Texans quarterback) Deshaun Watson,” he said. “I think I play like him. Running can be a huge part of my game as well as throwing. I would say I’m a dual threat. I’m reading defenses a little better, I’ve improved my speed and I’ve become more poised, but I want to try to get better in all aspects every day.”
Blair is also a standout baseball player, but knew after the 2018 football campaign that he wanted to pursue a college career on the gridiron instead of the diamond.
“He started games as a sophomore for us, and that alone, I think, put him on the right track to get to play football at the highest level,” Eagle said. When players are younger, you don’t always really know what they are capable of doing, but he kind of blossomed, and when the dust settled, it was made more clear that he wanted to continue to play football and follow his dream. He understands what we try to do (offensively), and he plays fast. I like his style. He usually only makes mistakes once — he’s a quick learner.”
Running back had ‘stressful’ recruiting process
UN running backs coach Vai Taua first made contact with Badolato-Birdsell in December 2019 after the Papermakers star ran for 216 yards and three touchdowns in Camas’ victory over Bothell in the 4A state championship game. Ten months later, the Wolf Pack offered Badolato-Birdsell a scholarship.
“I chose Nevada because I felt like it was the best fit for me and my family,” said Badolato-Birdsell, who also received offers from Georgetown University, Portland State University, Central Washington University and the Air Force Academy.
“I had a good bond with the coaching staff. I just felt like this was the right decision to make. (The recruiting process) was stressful, especially when it came down to making a decision. With COVID going on and not being committed (to a school), it was too much to bear. But once I committed, I had a different feeling. I’m excited and pumped up. Now I can focus on the season and getting the job done, and hopefully we can go back-to-back.”
Eagle said that he’s “excited for (Jacques) and his family.”
“Any time any player goes to school all expenses paid is a great thing,” Eagle said. “His life trajectory is unbound. Any school is a good fit for a quality young man like Jacques.”
The 5-11, 200-pound Badolato-Birdsell ran for 1,559 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2019, establishing himself as the lead runner in the Papermakers’ punishing ground attack.
“I have a combination of speed and strength,” he said. “I use my physicality pretty well, and I’m able to read the holes and the line pretty well. I’ve improved on my pull-away speed, which I’m hoping to see on film this season.”
“He is a quick learner,” Eagle added. “He picks things up fast. He runs behind his pads, he has great balance and burst, and he is a very physical runner. He is very hard to tackle. He has great vision and makes good decisions when running. He can catch passes. He will block. He gets stronger as the game wears on. Our run game requires the running back to make quick decisions. We say, ‘Bend it, bang it, bounce it.’ He has become very good at that.”
Badolato-Birdsell has also starred on the Papermakers’ wrestling and track and field squads, but has been focused on playing college football “for a while now.”
“In Camas, most freshmen don’t get to suit up for varsity games, but I got the privilege to suit up as a freshman,” he said. “I realized that the coaches saw something in me, that I had something they liked, and hopefully coaches at the next level would appreciate that as well. I focused and worked on my craft with the hope of playing in college.”