No player in Jackson football history had ever won a state championship before the 2020 season, and not many Indians have ever signed to compete in not one but two sports at the college level. Jackson senior Rhet Liley has accomplished both of these feats.
Ending the Jackson football team’s 125-year drought of not winning state was first on Liley’s list as he helped the Indians finish 14-0 overall and capture the Class 5 State Championship with a 42-7 win over Platte County.
Liley, like thousands of other high school athletes last spring, didn’t get a junior campaign as a member of Jackson’s track and field team, where he serves as the Indians javelin thrower. He just so happens to hold the school record in the event and would’ve undoubtedly improved on that mark last year.
“It’s kind of easy [to have the record] when we’ve only had javelin for a few years,” Liley joked. “Every time I PR [set a new personal record], I do break the record, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a big feat when you’re the third guy to ever throw at Jackson High School.”
Liley will continue to both make an impact on the gridiron and throw the javelin as he officially signed with Missouri University of Science and Technology last month.
“It’s really exciting knowing I’ll be able to carry on playing in college — means you get a few more years,” Liley said. “I’m really looking forward to it. Missouri S&T stood out to me because I love the city — it really reminds me of a bigger Jackson. I love that hometown feeling, and I really love the academic program. All of its ratings are incredible, and I know I’ll get a very good education there.”
Athletes who have played a sport in college compare it to like having a full-time job, but Liley is confident he’s prepared to play two sports collegiately since he plays in three at Jackson. Along with football and track and field, Liley is a member of the basketball team in the winter.
“I love being a leader, and I love doing things for my team — I love the brotherhood aspect of it,” Liley said. “I like doing things and sacrificing for everybody on the field or court. The javelin aspect is different because it’s just you, but in those team sports I really enjoy having someone else to work for, and it gives you another reason to complete something that’s really hard.”
The only thing Liley is expecting to be a major challenge for him at Missouri S&T are the academics, which he describes will be a “new level.”
As a member of the football team, Liley was an offensive specialist for the Indians playing at outside wide receiver, tight end (H-back) and sometimes even running back. Liley started his career at Jackson High School as a quarterback.
“Quarterback didn’t work out very well, so coach found a new position for me, and it was my first year at receiver as a sophomore,” Liley said. “I really looked forward to helping the guys out — getting Jordan Kent wide open, blocking and doing whatever I could for the team.”
Liley developed into a two-time, Class 5 All-state tight end for the Indians as he finished with 114 catches, 1,654 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career. Another reason why Liley was named all-state are because of his abilities as a blocker, whether it’s at the line of scrimmage creating lanes in the running game or down field helping one of his fellow receivers score a touchdown of their own.
One of the reasons why Liley was such a fine blocker for Jackson was because he played on the offensive line at the beginning of his career in second grade all the way up to seventh. The only time Liley played quarterback was in JAYF every other year because if a player was too big, they didn’t get to play quarterback, Liley explained.
“I never really had a whole lot of experience [throwing], but I always threw with my dad because I love to throw with him,” Liley said. “I loved to spend that time with him and dreamed about playing quarterback like he did one day and wearing No. 13 on the field. Quarterback didn’t work out, but God had another plan, and I loved it.”
Along with having the dream of wearing No. 13 like his father did for Jackson, it was also Liley’s dream to play at The Pit. He and the Indians never lost a game at home the last three years.
“It became my dream to play at The Pit because every Friday during the fall, you go out and you watch the Indians play,” Liley said. “You watch them run out and hear Mr. Stover’s voice. All the barbecue and being out on the field or with the fans — I just love the atmosphere. I always wanted to be one of those guys running out of the tunnel, and I finally got the opportunity to lead the team out of the tunnel this year. It was a dream come true.”
Liley at first was at a loss for words when asked what his favorite thing to do on the football field was.
“Obviously catching is really fun, but definitely celebrating every time especially after winning state,” Liley said. “… Blocking is a big aspect of [my job]. I think it’s one of the most selfless things you can do, and I’m really honored to be able to block for everyone on my team.”
Overall with Liley as a three-year starter, Jackson won three-straight SEMO North Conference and Class 5 District 1 Championships along with this year’s state title and finished with a combined record of 38-2.
Other players in the 2021 class with Liley who also started three years include fellow college signees like offensive tackle Connor Tollison (Mizzou), linebacker Bryce Norman (Southeast Missouri State), running back Daniel Dickerson (Dordt), cornerback Dimechi Herring (Quincy). Seniors like linebacker Randol McDowell, who is committed to SEMO, and quarterback Cael Welker have yet to sign.
As for throwing the javelin, Liley’s career began doing that halfway through his freshman season of track and field, which happened to be second nature to him since his father taught him how to throw his entire life.
“Really it was just re-engineering my throw from being a quarterback to javelin,” Liley said. “Still working at it, but ever since we really haven’t had a javelin coach, it’s been a lot of me being on my own. I really love the technicality of each throw and watching my own work after its done.”
Liley said the thing with javelin is that little things done differently can give one an extra foot on their throw. For instance, Liley said rotating your hand a little could get someone five more feet.
Even though Liley enjoys the technique that comes with being a successful javelin thrower, he said ultimately what he loves the most about it is throwing it because “it’s not every day a kid gets to throw a spear.” Javelins are not actually spears, obviously, but they move like one, Liley added.
“Track has been great,” Liley said. “Missing last year was definitely difficult because that’s one of the bigger recruiting years — it’s the big jump and would’ve been my third season. That year would’ve been a lot better to get my PRs up, but I have my mom to go to the track with me everyday and take videos for me. She did whatever I needed to get my PRs up, and I felt like I got a lot of offseason work with her. She helped me a lot with that.”
Off the field at Missouri S&T, Liley will be pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. Liley’s mother is a civil engineer and his father is a general contractor, but neither of those fields is exactly what Rhet wants to do.
“I know that I love physics, and I love math,” Liley said. “It’s my favorite part of the week, and I get to work with numbers. I know I get to work with numbers and physics in that, and it’s pretty broad so I can do a lot of things based off of it.”