Former Batavia High School standout Jack Valente (66) played right tackle, right guard and center this past season for Eastern Illinois. (Photo by EIUPanthers.com)
By Dan Verdun
Jack of all trades truly fits this Eastern Illinois offensive lineman.
As a prep athlete at Batavia High School, Jack Valente lettered in football, basketball and lacrosse.
After a freshman season in 2021 in which he saw action as the Eastern Illinois long snapper as well as time as a reserve offensive lineman, Valente proved to be the durable piece in the Panthers’ front unit. Valente was the only EIU offensive lineman to appear in all 11 games.
His “Jack of all trades” versatility shone as the sophomore made six starts at right tackle, four starts at right guard and one start at center.
Moreover, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Valente earned second team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as long snapper.
Get to know Jack Valente in Prairie State Pigskin’s Moving the Chains Q&A.
Your major is listed as engineering cooperative. What all does that entail? What are your career goals?
Based on the program that I’m doing, I’ll be getting a physics degree from Eastern and that helps with the transition to the University of Illinois to finish out an engineering degree. I’ve got four more years of schooling left.
I want to become a bio-mechanical engineer. I’m extremely fascinated by how the human body works. I have an engineering mind as my dad always said. So, it brings the two together. It can help out doctors design and build equipment for surgery or design and manufacture equipment that will help people in a variety of ways. (For example), through recovery, or by helping people play sports, or function normally on a day-to-day basis.
You played three different positions in the offensive line last fall. How challenging was that week-to-week?
By knowing what each position does from our meeting room sessions, it wasn’t too difficult. I’m able to wrap my head around our offense and do what’s needed. In the heat of the game when the defense is moving, the hardest part is being able to switch your brain from position to position and knowing what you have to do versus being set in one position.
We didn’t have too many injuries midweek. Since a lot of our injuries happened in games, I pretty much knew what position I would be playing in the next week. Knowing ahead of time allowed me to practice the position leading up to the game.
The only game was tough was the one I played center. We were rotating between two or three centers. The coaches saw I was a long snapper and asked if I could play center. I practiced twice, and they said that I knew what I was doing and I snapped pretty well in practice. That week, they made the decision that I was the starting center.
Playing center means you’re making the line calls. How difficult is that?
As my coach likes to say, I’m the last one with the marker, the last one with the pen. When everyone is doing their edits, I have the last word and make the first statement on the field.
Do you prefer to play one of the offensive line spots over the others? If so, which one?
I go back and forth between right guard and right tackle. In my high school experience I never played offensive line. So coming to Eastern was a brand new experience. Learning how to pass set and learning how to block down instead of just running across the line and hitting the linebacker like I did in high school (as a fullback or tight end).
I liked tackle my freshman year because I’ve always been more of the athletic type, and I like that aspect of it. As a tackle, you have to be able to cover the defensive end rushing.
This (past) season I started playing guard in the spring, entering fall camp as well as the beginning of the (fall) season. I’ve got to say that I enjoyed it. In our offense we don’t really pull the tackles too much. (As a guard) I got to do that, and that’s one of my favorite things to do.
EIU’s special teams showed great improvement last season over previous years. What was the difference?
Practice. We had some great special team guys. We had (punter) Trey Wilhoit. He came in last year and absolutely balled out for us. And (kicker) Stone (Galloway) was just on point with every single one of his field goals. We like to make fun of him because he missed one during the season on a windy day. That was his only miss of the year.
Practicing all the time, we always got extra work. I’m helping another long snapper, he’s actually one of my good friends, Brett Galletti, right now. He’d never long-snapped much before. I’ve been helping teach him and through that I’ve gotten just so much better myself. Coaching something helps you to improve. It’s just like any subject in a classroom, once you know it and understand it, that means you can teach it to someone else.
What was it like growing up in Batavia?
The people there are absolutely amazing. The community we had with the coaches was the best thing in the world. Most of our coaches at Batavia were homegrown. They grew up in Batavia, went to school in Batavia and now are coaching in Batavia. So those that were my leaders and who helped me grow were in my exact same situation before taking on those roles.
You played for one of the state’s most successful prep programs in recent years. How did that help you with the transition to the FCS level?
We had a few linebackers who had (college scholarship) offers when I was playing. It was something to see the level of physicality that a young college-level athlete had. Being able to play against those guys every day in practice helped me get better as well as helping them.
It really helped me with the transition to college, especially with being able to handle the physical parts. Obviously playing offensive line (in college) is way different than playing fullback in high school, but having that experience from Batavia really helped me out.
The EIU coaching staff has brought in recruits from other state championship programs. What does this do for Panther football?
It just brings more competition. That breeds hard work, and hard work breeds success.
Knowing what winning feels like and knowing what it takes to become a winner (is important). As our coach likes to say winning is not ordinary. It takes hard work. It’s hard to win and really easy to lose. So having that mentality of ‘I know how to win’ and what it takes is a good step forward for our program.
Eastern featured some different uniform combinations last season. Which is your favorite?
The black on black. Part of it is that it just goes so well together. It matches really well with our black end zones. And for big guys like myself, it helps hide some of the rolls.
Which of Eastern’s opponents’ uniforms do you like the best?
I don’t think I’ve ever focused on other teams’ uniforms as I was playing against them. Looking back at pictures, there’s been a couple that I’ve liked. There are a couple teams that match white uniforms with the cleats. Having all one color is a really good look.
Nearly all coaches say that true gains are made during the off-season. How are winter workouts going?
We get our workouts done during the morning, and then we have meetings and extra work later in the day. The gains are made not only in the weight room but also on and off the field. We have that time to make ourselves better in the ways that we need to.
Valentine’s Day was last week. What do you love about football?
I love how it’s been able to make me grow. Playing football is probably the best choice I’ve ever made. Not only has it helped me grow as a football player athletically by making me bigger and stronger, but it’s helped me grow as a man. It’s taught me so many life lessons about teamwork and self-accountability and teammate-accountability and time management. The list goes on; there’s so many things I could talk about.
What has been the best road atmosphere you played in at EIU?
Probably NIU last fall. That was a really cool experience. I got to play there as a Batavia football athlete, but for last year’s game the (NIU) student section was sitting right behind our bench. They were trash-talking in a funny way. They weren’t mean. Plus, we almost got them back at the end (in a 31-24 loss).
Which Ohio Valley Conference road atmosphere is the toughest?
Hmmm, I can’t just say one. A lot of the OVC teams like to trash talk and get real mouthy, especially the student sections.