Last season as a sophomore, Krece Nowak was making a mark for himself on the Stephenville varsity football as a straight-A student on his way to a team-leading 1,230 yards rushing.

Eight games into his junior season, Nowak is averaging an impressive 8.8 yards per carry and leading the team in scoring with 14 touchdowns (10 rushing, four receiving). He grew a little bigger, and improved his strength during the offseason. And he’s still just as sharp in the classroom.

Nowak's playing weight last season was about 145 pounds, but now he’s up to 160. He also grew 2 inches taller, to 5-10, but maintained the outstanding quickness that makes him an explosive weapon in head coach Greg Winder's offense.

He gives much of the credit for the strength improvement to the team’s defensive coordinator Jody Moore, who began a new offseason training program after the 2016 season in which the Jackets made the playoffs, but were 3-8 overall and 2-2 in district.

“He (Moore) changed up our workouts. That’s probably the best thing that’s happened to our team,” Nowak said. “He’s made a very big impact.”

Nowak still basically has only two speeds on the field — fast and faster.

This season for the Yellow Jackets, who were 6-2 going into last night’s District 3-4A, Div. I game at Snyder, Nowak needed just 28 yards to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season. That’s despite missing a game and a half because of a rib injury suffered in the Sept. 29 loss at Graham.

Nowak was on the freshman team in 2015, but skipped the junior varsity the following year when he was promoted to varsity. Winder said that varsity experience has given Nowak an edge in his football knowledge this season.

“He understands what the linemen up front are doing, and he understands what the plays are designed to do,” Winder said. “He has also improved his pass protection.”

Nowak’s absence the week after the Graham game contributed to the Jackets’ second straight loss, Oct. 6 at home against Lubbock Monterey.

Winder said Nowak absolutely did not want to have to sit on the sideline.

“He’s a tough kid. He wanted to come back in the game that night (against Graham),” Winder said.

“It was real tough not to go out there,” said Nowak, who in the spring competes in track (long jump and 400-meter relay). “There were times when I wanted to tell one of the trainers to go get my pads so I could go in and play.”

Nowak is third on the team in pass receptions, with 20. He was also used as a receiver with success last season, either coming out of the backfield or sometimes setting up in the slot or out wide depending on the situtation.

Nowak said it makes no difference to him if he has 100 yard rushing, or contributes more as a receiver.

“As long as we get the win, that’s all that really matters," Nowak said. “Every time I get the ball, I want to score. I do everything I can.”

His strength and speed aren’t the only two areas in which Nowak has shown improvement this season.

“I feel like my vision has gotten better,” he said.

Nowak said the offensive line makes it all work for the offense, which is averaging 413 yards of total offense per game.

“They (the offensive line) have been handling it up front really well,” Nowak said.

Winder said, “It all starts up front, and he knows that. They (the linemen) are improving every week.”

Of course, the Jackets’ offense also got a huge boost with the return earlier in the season of senior quarterback Easton Jones. Jones had an amazing recovery from an offseason elbow injury to return to the starting position for a third straight year. He has passed for 1,312 yards and 13 of the team’s 17 aerial touchdowns, with only 3 interceptions in 137 attempts.

Nowak also noted that blocking provided by tight end Kade Averhoff, along with receivers Kyle Lindsey, Blake Aragon, Gage Graham and Clay Krause (currently injured) has also been a key factor in springing open running lanes.

“It’s been a lot better from last year,” Nowak said “The downfield blocking has been outstanding. Averhoff has done amazingly well. It’s kind of hard to stop an offense that does everything well.

“I’m having a lot of fun. I know the rest of the team is too.”

Nowak said that in the huddle, Averhoff will find crucial moments in games to remind everyone of the primary goal as inspiration — the gold ball designating the district champion.

“If something goes wrong, we have a saying, ‘Gold ball chasing.’ It’s like, coming off of last season and not doing what we wanted to, it’s like our motivation,” Nowak said. “I want it really bad. It’s what we’ve been working for since we got knocked out of the playoffs last year.”