In January 2014, Jake Fetherolf couldn’t so much as walk under his own power as a freshman at Baldwin-Wallace University. Surgery to fix a stress fracture in his right foot couldn’t have come at a worse time for the 2013 Norwalk graduate — one of the all-time greats during a golden era of Norwalk athletics.
The snow had piled up, and wind chill temperatures dropped to -42 degrees below zero. So while attempting to adjust to college life, strapped with crutches and a walking boot — the 6-foot-7 Fetherolf struggled with the entire process.
“It was definitely weird not being able to play, and then being in a new environment at college — I was still trying to adjust, dealing with the initial phase of homesick and living at school,” Fetherolf said. “It was really hard for me to get to and from class, and I got behind and missed a month of class with the surgery and not being able to get around. It was just hard trying to get around.”
However, much like his playing days in both football and basketball at Norwalk — Fetherolf has rebounded quite well.
Entering today’s game at Otterbein, Fetherolf is averaging 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Yellow Jackets (11-3, 5-2 OAC).
In a win at Wilmington on Jan. 6, Fetherolf became the 41st player in program history to score 1,000 career points. He’s one of just 10 players in BW history to score 1,000 or more points and grab 700 or more rebounds.
He enters today’s game with 1,026 points, ranked 36th all-time — and is on pace to finish 21st or 22nd all-time in scoring for the Jackets. He’s currently sixth all-time at BW in career rebounds, and is on pace to finish fourth.
Not bad for a kid forced to be holed up in a dorm room for much of his true freshman season.
“When I came back, I didn’t necessarily have that overwhelming experience, because I had gotten to play three games before the injury,” Fetherolf said. “Once I got cleared, I was able to do some things with workouts to be as ready as I could be, getting more physical with training, things like that.
“It wasn’t as big of a jump as it was when I got in the few minutes I did a a true freshman,” he added.
One thing Fetherolf has had to do in order to be successful in college was change his game.
“I didn’t shoot much from outside the paint area in high school, maybe here or there,” said Fetherolf, who has connected on 28-of-63 three-point attempts (44 percent) this season.
“I had to expand my game to the three-point line a little more,” he said. “We shoot a lot of them here in our system. I still get the ball on the block a little bit. But I also had to learn to be more patient — trying to read a defense and see what they are doing, getting the best shot possible.”
One big benefit Fetherolf had compared to others when arriving to Berea was key experience with Norwalk teammates. Jeff Thomas plays at Div. I Georgia State, and Ben Haraway is at Div. II Ashland.
He played three years with the two, as the Truckers rolled up a 61-7 record in that span, three league titles, and two unbeaten regular seasons.
“Being at the Division III level, playing every day with Benny and Jeff, I was playing with two guys who had next-level game obviously,” Fetherolf said. “Just by being around them all the time helped me get to where I wanted to be.
“And a big thing I learned at Norwalk — hard work very day pays off,” he added. “Coach (Steve) Gray was great on me. He really made me realize what I had to do on a daily basis to get where I wanted to be. That was a big thing.”
It’s been a near-decade run of high-level athletics for Fetherolf. He’s gone from firing bullet passes as one of the more accomplished quarterbacks in Norwalk history, to helping anchor the greatest run by a sport in NHS history in basketball.
Now, he’s hoping to help the Jackets to an NCAA tournament appearance — also as one of the most accomplished players to come through the program.
With at least 12 games remaining, Fetherolf knows his time as an athlete is fleeting.
“I’ve thought about it, and I’m sure that will hit me last game, though hopefully that’s later as opposed to sooner,” he said. “It will be emotional when the moment comes, but I’m just going to enjoy each practice and game I have left.”