When two siblings attend the same college, the easy assumption to make is that the younger one followed in the older one’s footsteps. For the Jancek brothers, though, it worked out the opposite way.
Clay Jancek, who will be a freshman at the United States Naval Academy this fall, has followed older brother Jake to Annapolis — and, like Jake, will walk on to the track team — but it was Clay’s dream to go there long before Jake did.
“I was actually the one who told my brother about USNA and his interest sparked because of that,” Clay said. “I will admit that it’s reassuring to have a sibling at the academy, but I kind of hate it when people say I’m following in his footsteps.
“The reason I chose USNA personally was because of how much it values every aspect of a person. They want someone who is academically gifted, athletic, a good leader, and an upstanding citizen. I knew that if I went to USNA, not only would I meet a ton of other people who met those requirements, but I would grow in each of them as well.”
It has to be a dream for Clay to sign up for what he’s going through, because this month he’s in the midst of what midshipmen call “plebe summer” — basically, a six-week boot camp. Because of COVID-19 concerns, that’s been modified somewhat this year; Clay, who left for the academy in early July, is essentially under quarantine for two weeks before he kicks off an abbreviated four-week plebe summer.
Jake, who of course went through the same thing his first year, said that first academy experience will be challenging for Clay, although also oddly fun in its own way.
“The big thing with plebe training is the mental and physical,” Jake said. “Just making sure the people they brought in can handle academy life. It’s your first indoctrination into the academy. They’re waking up at 5 a.m. every morning, doing a two-hour workout, 10K runs and everything, and getting tested physically. There’s a lot of the ‘hurry up and wait’ that the military experiences all the time. It’s a lot of memorizing and reciting under pressure, and if they can’t say what they’re supposed to say verbatim, they drop and do push-ups.
“As a plebe, you’re not really part of the Brigade yet, so even if (you’re talking to) a sophomore, you’ll call them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ or ‘mister’. You’ll be jogging everywhere, greeting everyone you see....It’s kind of fun too, and I know a lot of the guys who are in charge of him. He’ll have a fun and challenging summer.”
So restricted are incoming freshmen during this six-week time that when Clay was contacted for an interview for this story, he said, he had to get specific permission from his commanding officer to reply to an e-mail, and had to answer interview questions via postal mail.
Clay said his desire to compete at the college level was only stoked by the fact that he lost his senior year in high school track to COVID-19.
“I had high hopes and goals,” Clay said of his senior season. “Many of my brother’s records were well within reach and I had just gotten started in pole vault. I really feel like I lost my chance to prove myself, so now I’m looking for opportunities to do just that.”
The Janceks’ dad, Steve, said Clay was likely going to break Montague’s 100-meter and pole vault school records had there been a 2020 season.
Making the track team, of course, will be a challenge as a walk-on, but Clay said he’s determined, and the example he’s witnessed from his older brother doing the same thing can only help. (For his part, Jake said his coaches have told him they’re excited for Clay to join the team.)
“Most of the kids are recruited and there aren’t a lot of walk-ons,” Clay said. “However, I have talked to the coaches and they all stressed the power of hard work. My brother has set a good example for me in that regard. I don’t know anyone who has tried harder or put more work into a goal.”
Jake, meanwhile, is preparing for his junior year. Even as a freshman walk-on, Jake was able to compete in five meets, but his performances weren’t up to his expectations.
Following an ambitious off-season plan from his coaches, Jake expanded his repertoire. Previously a sprint specialist, he added, among other things, hurdles and pole vault to his skill set — working, he said, with his high school track coach Terry Fick to do it. The work paid off; Jake was able to check ‘score at a meet’ off his lengthy list of goals as a sophomore by taking seventh place in heptathlon at the Patriot League indoor track championships this past school year. His score helped Navy roll to the conference title.
Like his brother, Jake saw his academic year upended by COVID-19. He was actually competing in the San Diego Collegiate Challenge meet when travel was largely grounded, so he’s taken summer classes and hasn’t left California since; he had been scheduled to have a research internship with the Navy’s Special Warfare Command, which was canceled. He’s now in Los Gatos, near San Jose, staying with teammate Thomas Johnstone and awaiting guidance on when he can return to Annapolis.
Navy announced this week that all midshipmen will be returning in a staggered fashion to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. According to a Navy Times article, returns will begin this Monday, July 20. Students will be tested for the coronavirus when they arrive and will have movements restricted for two weeks, at which point they’ll be tested again. The school will take precautions to prevent spread on campus.
“The big issues aren’t the midshipmen, because everyone who’s tested positive has been asymptomatic,” Jake said. “I believe the faculty and staff who are older are the primary concern.”
While students will be on campus, classes will be held with a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning.
Both Jake and Steve expect that, once the midshipmen are back on campus, they likely will not be permitted to leave again until at least the end of the fall semester, to keep students from bringing the virus to Annapolis.
“My guess is that I won’t see the boys until Christmas at the earliest,” Steve said. “They’ll test them, quarantine them, and keep them inside the four walls.”
“The academy is very intent on getting back to normal, but they also don’t want to risk people getting sick,” Clay added. “I won’t profess to really know what’s going to happen, but I know for sure it will be different.”
Once life hopefully returns to a place where track meets can be public events, Steve and wife Jenny, who has been an assistant track coach during her kids’ Montague careers, are both looking forward to returning to Annapolis to see Jake and Clay in action. Each has traveled a couple of times to watch Jake compete. Steve said he’s been blown away not just by the athletic abilities of the competitors — “To watch your really fast kid be in the slowest heat is an eye-opener” — but also the caliber of people on the team.
“If you ever get a chance to go to one of these events and get a chance to meet the kids he’s competing with, it’s one of the most impressive things ever, is getting to know the kids on the team,” Steve said. “It restores your hope in humanity...They’re getting a good education, and they’re hanging out with just great people.
“Words don’t describe how impressive these young men and women are. They’re the total package. Athletically, academically, character.”
Needless to say, the Janceks, however this uncommon academic year plays out, have immense pride in the fact that their sons have each earned places among that group.
“It’s one thing when you have kids that are successful because they’re extremely gifted,” Steve said. “It’s even better when you have kids that are successful, not just because they’re gifted, but because they’re willing to work really hard.”
Jake is looking forward to having Clay with him on campus as well and is optimistic his brother will get the same benefits from running track for Navy as he has.
“It’d be awesome to have him there every day,” Jake said. “Being on the team’s been awesome. The quality of the guys on the team has been great. Hopefully he’ll have the same opportunity I’ve had. It’d be cool to run alongside him.”
Jake paused briefly. After Jake followed Clay’s dream to attend Navy, perhaps Clay will be doing the following this time around, on the track.
“Hopefully a little ahead of him,” Jake added with a laugh.