The fire within

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Graduate Jake Hess goes from football to firefighting.

Jake Hess never thought his experience as a fullback for the Northern Arizona University football team would prepare him for his job as a firefighter a year later. As a fullback, recent alum Jake Hess was tasked with protecting the Northern Arizona University football team’s running back as he drove in to score touchdowns. His teammates relied on his dependability, as well as his ability to lead and communicate, and this growth and experience prepared him for his current job—working as a wildland firefighter with the Flagstaff Fire Department. 

The Northern Arizona University 2013 Male Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year, who graduated in May with a 3.55 GPA and a BS in Psychology, says the skills he developed playing football at the university have translated well into his new line of work.

"When you’re playing football, you go into meetings and you learn ten new plays for the day,” Hess says. “Then, you have to go out to practice and not mess them up, when things are happening so fast and the information is so new. Fighting wildfires on a team is somewhat like that.”

Hess hopes to eventually apply and be admitted to post-collegiate medical study. Despite his success with athletics, he explains he focused on his academic career because he knew that was where his future was.

“I realized I wasn't going to be a professional athlete, so I had to keep my grades up,” Hess says.

Hess has never been above doing hard work, from his studies to hours of community service. It is how he found himself on the Northern Arizona University football team in the first place.

Earning his place

Hess, originally from Reno, Nevada, attended Boise State for three years before transferring to Northern Arizona University. Nothing was handed to him – Hess had to earn both a starting position on the football team and an athletic scholarship.

"A full-ride athletic scholarship is probably one of the greatest things an athlete can accomplish,” Hess says. “You put in a lot of hard work and eventually the good things come around. I really appreciate all the people who donate money to scholarships.”

In his role as fullback, Hess was charged with protecting the running back as he drove the ball down the field. It is a role that requires great communication and chemistry between the two players. Hess and All-American running back Zach Bauman worked efficiently together for two seasons, and Bauman just broke the university's rushing yards record

Hess loved his role on the team, including bringing the energy and enthusiasm necessary to get his teammates fired up.

“I'm a high energy guy,” Hess explains. “If I get out there in a game and I see some guys that have their head down, I'll try to motivate them. I let them look into my eyes and see how much passion I'm playing with.”

Hess says being a student-athlete in Flagstaff was an experience unlike any other.

"Northern Arizona University is a great community that has a small town vibe,” Hess says. “I had a lot of people come up to me and tell me what a great game I played.”

Protecting and serving

When he played football at the university, Hess was lauded for his work in the community. On May 15th, he was named the National Football Foundation’s Athlete of the Day in recognition of his charitable accomplishments.

Among other activities, Hess was the student-athlete speaker at Red Ribbon Week, volunteered at a golf camp for kids, and was an active participant in the Student-Athlete for a Day event, where local Flagstaff elementary school students learn what being a university student is like from Northern Arizona University athletes.

So far, Hess has been enjoying his post-graduate life and the job he loves, protecting the community from the dangers of wildfire. For Hess, it is an opportunity to both give back and gain new experiences.

"Firefighting is something I love to do,” Hess says. “Every day, I've been learning a ton of new things. I love to work hard, so it's the perfect career path for me.”