If sports fans from far away think of the Jefferson City Jays Football Program and its rich tradition, the image probably is that of an old brick high school sitting high atop a hill – a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s – and with the football stadium tucked in at the bottom of the hill.

Which is exactly the case – and a perfect setting for home-field advantage. And why not? Visiting teams probably sense they’re up against all of the Jays’ tradition towering from behind the grandstands.

From this field rose one of arguably the first behemoths of Missouri prep football, and the results are why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Jefferson City Jays Football Program with the Class of 2019.

Jefferson City Football was the first to win 10 state titles (1976, 1977, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997) in Missouri high school history.

In fact, the program has played in 23 state semifinals and also has two state runners-up to its name stemming from the 1979 and 1998 seasons. Additionally, it has produced 10 All-Americans.

And that’s only the quick synopsis of Jays Football.

“We just outworked everybody and had more desire to be the best,” said Pete Adkins, the program’s longtime coach how not only was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1986 but was honored as a Missouri Sports Legend – with a sculptor creating a bust, specially cast in bronze, that sits on the Hall of Fame’s Legends Walkway with so many other big names.

Put it this way, nine state titles were won under Adkins. Between 1958 and 1995, his Jefferson City teams were 348-48-2 – he won 405 games overall counting his first job at Centralia High School – and the Jays walked across the sports page with a swagger that was certainly earned.

Between 1959 and 1965, the Jays enjoyed a 71-game win streak – which for years stood as a national record.

Ron Cole coached the Jays to the 1997 state championship as well as a 1998 state runner-up and three state semifinal berths (1996, 1999, 2001). Tony Grosso coached from 2002 to 2005. Ted LePage coached for 12 seasons (2006-2017), taking the 2006 and 2008 teams to state semifinals. And now Terry Walker is carrying the torch as the team’s latest coach.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Jays have had only five head coaches dating back to the start of the 1958 season. And 14 teams had perfect seasons, and 20 had undefeated regular seasons.

“Our coaches were the best teachers of fundamentals at any level. We could out-coach and out-fundamental everybody. That was our secret, and that’s what made us successful.”

Not only were visiting teams intimidated, but up-and-coming Jays naturally were, too.

“Every day was a story,” former Jays player George Shorthose once told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Every time you went to the film room, you saw those pictures of all those undefeated teams, and you knew all those guys were looking at you and making sure you were playing well.”

Between 1951 and 2008, Jefferson City had roughly 170 players earn All-State honors.

All-Americans were: Mel West (1951), Keith Weber (1958, 1959), Charlie Brown (1962), Bob Wilson (1963), Chuck Weber (1964), Gary Butler (1964), Mike Hopkins (1971), George Shorthose (1979), Mike Bedosky (1988) and Justin Smith in 1997.

The list of Jays who went on to play in the NFL features Brown (Atlanta Falcons), Jerry Crumpler (Dallas Cowboys), Dennis Meyer (Pittsburgh Steelers), Shorthose (Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos), Don Webb (then-Boston Patriots), Smith (Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers), Steve Martin (Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, Chiefs, Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings), Kirk Farmer (St. Louis Rams, Chiefs), Justin Gage (Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans) and Sylvester Williams (Broncos, Titans, Dolphins and currently with the Los Angeles Chargers). Smith, an All-American lineman at Mizzou, played 14 seasons in the NFL.

So good were the Jays that they carried Adkins on their backs and sealed his persona as a football coaching legend. Their efforts led to Adkins owning the best winning percentage in the country for a coach with 100 or more games. And for years he was the third-winningest coach in football at any level.

“Ninety-nine times out of 100 when we walked on the field,” Adkins said, “we knew we were going to win. If these guys listened and would follow us, good things would happen.”