Peters Township QB grows into position
Jake Cortes of Peters Township understands why his youth football coaches at St. Louise de Marillac tried to make him a lineman.
After all, his father, Ron, played tackle and captained Upper St. Clair to a WPIAL championship in 1988 before going on to play football at the Naval Academy for two seasons and finishing up at the University of Pittsburgh with an engineering degree. And his uncles, Joe and Michael, were tight ends for the Panthers before heading off to John Carroll and Robert Morris universities, respectively. Plus, Cortes stood 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed 225 pounds.
“My dad and his side of the family got me started playing football,” said the 17-year-old son of Wendy Cortes. “I loved it but I was stuck being an offensive and defensive lineman because there were weight limits and I was always big.”
Who is he: Peters Township High School quarterback that ranks among the passing leaders in the WPIAL
Birthdate: Jan. 7
Parents: Ron and Wendy
Siblings: Luke, 13; Carsyn, 12; Max, 10; Rylie, 7
Sports: Football, basketball
Clubs: National Honor Society
College choices: Cornell, Penn, Princeton, Fordham
Major: Mechanical or bio-medical engineering.
Career choice: Orthopaedic Surgeon.
Food: Chicken parmesan.
Movie: “The Godfather”
What character would you be: Michael Corleone
Music: I always listen to Dean Martin
Book: “Inheritance” by Christopher Paolini
Dream Destination: Amalfi Coast
Dream car: Bugatti Veyron
Favorite athlete: Tom Brady. “Probably not going to get a love from Pittsburgh Steelers fans for that.”
Hero: My dad. “Because I just see the things he’s done for me and my family. I look up to him and hope I can model myself after him when I’m at that age.”
People might be surprised to know this about you? “I’m not good but I love to sing. I sing whatever pops into my head.”
Who you would like to have dinner with? Dan Marino
What has sport taught you & prepared you for life? “Sports have shown me that you can’t do everything by yourself. There are times you need to rely on others to get things done. Sports has also taught me to persevere and push through the ups and downs. You can’t get too down. You’ve got to fight to get back to the top.”
What do you like best about your sport? “For me and the guys on team, it’s something that allows us to get away from every day life. We are in our wwn world. We are all brothers; all best friends. There are no problems, no outside world. It’s just what’s happening on that field and we are there for each other.”
In 15 years, I will be: “The ultimate dream would be to still be playing football.”
Cortes, however, wasn’t very good.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I was bad. There is always those growing pains,” he added with a laugh.
By the time, he entered high school, however, Cortes grew into a new position. When Rick Mellick saw he could throw the football, the coach convinced the elder Cortes that his son’s tackling days were over.
“I was so happy,” Cortes said of the shift to quarterback. “I embraced it. Although I am not a vocal leader, I tend to lead by action and quarterback gave me the opportunity to do just that. I think that is why I settled into the position so quickly.”
By his sophomore season, Cortes exploded onto the varsity scene. He ranked among the WPIAL passing leaders with 1,254 yards. He completed 109 of 201 passes and tossed seven touchdowns.
Last fall, he connected on 109 of 214 attempts for 2,036 yards and 18 scores. This season, Cortes has already completed 71 of 131 aerials for 982 yards and 10 TDs.
And the Indians have benefited. They are off to their best start in 14 years and are positioned to clinch a playoff spot when they host Mt. Lebanon at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13.
“Last year we relied on Jake to a fault, but he responded,” explained T.J. Plack, who is in his second season as Peters head coach. “This year, he has some help with our defense playing fantastic, limiting opponents on the ground and scoreboard, as well as our run game. Our offensive line continues to improve, and young tailbacks are beginning to understand the blocking schemes, and take advantage of their blockers. So Jake has been there to make the important third-down plays, manage the communication, and continues to make plays when called upon.”
For Cortes, that’s the objective. Be a team player. He values performance over statistics.
“A lot of times people take into consideration statistics in determining whether you are a good quarterback but a good quarterback can lead you to wins and championships. It’s about helping the team as a whole,” he said. “Truly, my one and only expectation is to help change the program in a positive way and in doing that make the playoffs.
“We are off to our best start because of the coaching staff. You have to give them credit. They have changed the culture and we are on the right path. Everybody is determined. We know what we have to do to lock it down. So far it has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to be the best we can be.”
Cortes and his teammates have put in the extra effort. They competed in passing camps, worked out in the summer and hit the weight room on regular basis. They even put in supplemental time after practices.
“My teammates and I, the wide receivers, even the O-linemen, would try to get together after workouts and get the timing down and get ready for the season. It’s the little things. Everybody out there working together as a team, working on footwork, self condition, one-on-one things like that,” Cortes said.
With the groundwork completed, execution is what’s left for Cortes and the Indians. Though they did not fare well in their encounter against No. 1-ranked Pine-Richland last week, losing 56-7, they look to rebound this Friday against the Blue Devils (3-0, 5-1). The Indians have had the Lebo date circled on the calendar because the seniors have never beaten the Blue Devils in their high school careers.
“Pine-Richland was a very good team but our first goal is to qualify for the playoffs,” Cortes said, noting the game against the Rams was a non-conference affair. “Mt. Lebanon is a good team and a good measuring stick for us. Because we’ve never beaten them, we are driven to win.”
The Indians will also be driven to beat Canon-McMillan (2-2, 4-3) in their Southeastern Conference finale. Peters Township (3-1, 5-2) visits its Canonsburg neighbor at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20. The Indians end the regular season with a non-conference clash at home Oct. 27 with Shaler.
“(Canon-Mac) always gives us their best and we do the same. It’s always a tough game,” Cortes said of the date with the Big Macs. “We have to do our best because the best is what they are giving us. But we feel if we go out and give our absolute best and let the cards fall where they may, they should fall our way.”
Off the football field, things fall in Cortes’s favor because he gives his all. He excels on the basketball court, having averaged a team-high 15.5 points per game last winter. He also executes in the classroom, pulling down a 4.22 GPA. He plans to play football for an Ivy League institution. His choices include: Cornell, Penn, Princeton and Fordham.
“While the ultimate dream would be to still be playing in 15 years, I know that football isn’t a lasting thing. We all stop at some time so why not get the best education using football,” Cortes said.
Such reasoning endears Cortes to his teammates and coaches.
“Jake is a tremendous young man,” Plack said. “He is one of our leaders on the field. Players look up to him and respect him. And, he is a competitor, which is what I love the most.”
Cortes loves to compete and that is why he is making the most of every moment his senior season.
“It’s crazy how fast it has gone. Wild to think about really,” he said. “These games are the last time I am going to get to play with my friends. That’s why I am putting my heart and soul into it. Every game,” he added.
Ironically, Cortes credits his teammates, especially the offensive linemen, for his success. “We had to replace an all-senior line,” he explained. “All those younger kids have done well. They are huge competitors and tough players to have on your team. They have done a fantastic job.”