Jacob Herold has battled linemen, cornerbacks and safeties en route to becoming one of the best high school quarterbacks in the state. But one of his toughest opponents doesn’t wear a helmet or shoulder pads. Herold is a Type 1 diabetic. Yet this 17-year old has learned to thrive while living with a disease that would sideline most anyone, much less an elite athlete. 

Herold, starting quarterback for the South Winneshiek Warriors, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in the first grade. The most difficult form of diabetes to live with, Type 1 disrupts the pancreas’ normal production of insulin. Athletic activity only worsens the condition, as it drains the body of the carbohydrates necessary to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. “I’m constantly checking my blood sugar during games,” Herold said. “If I’m getting either low or high, I’ll make sure and correct it before it even gets to the point where I can’t compete any longer.”

Now entering his third season as starting quarterback for the Warriors, Herold has proven he’s up for the diabetes challenge. In his sophomore season (2018) Herold passed for 2,121 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 65 yards and four TD’s. His junior year was even better, as Herold lit up defenses for 2,562 yards and 21 TD’s while rushing for 198 yards and six scores. In his senior season debut against North Fayette Valley last week, Herold rushed for 53 yards and passed for 62 yards and a pair of TD’s in a 20-10 victory.

Herold is quick to credit team trainer Heather Lange for helping him stay on the field, calling her one of the most helpful people he’s worked with. “I come off the field and she’s right there waiting for me and ready to help test my blood-sugar level,” he said. “I’ll test it quick and if everything’s okay, I’m ready to head right back out on the field.” If his levels get too high during the competition, he has to take care of it the old-fashioned way - with a syringe. He’ll simply draw insulin out of a container and inject himself. 

As long as he’s feeling well, Herold routinely checks his blood sugar after every quarter, and then gives himself some insulin for maintenance during halftime. He can usually gauge his levels simply by how he’s feeling. “Everyone with diabetes has different symptoms,” he said. “For me, I can do everything physically when my blood sugar gets too high, but it gets hard to concentrate. I also get a really dry mouth and I’m very thirsty. At the other end when my sugar is too low, I’ll get really drowsy, won’t have any energy, and my feet feel heavy.”

Herold typically wears an insulin pump throughout the day and if his levels start to creep up, he can simply hit a button on the pump. However, he can’t wear that pump during a football game.  

South Winn head football coach Jason Ohrt says his senior QB has done a good job with self-management and has never had to come off the field because of his condition.  “We’ve had some moments where it’s been close to that,” Ohrt said. “He’s really good at recognizing when he’s off and Jacob always tells us when he’s not in top form. Our trainer, Heather Lange, has been with us a long time and does a great job with him. While it’s something we always have to keep an eye on, he does such a good job that we as coaches don’t think about it as often.” 

Ironically, Coach Ohrt and trainer Lange have had prior experience with diabetic players. Jacob’s older brother, Mitchell, was a student-athlete for Ohrt and also suffered from Type 1 diabetes.  “They said the odds of two siblings having Type 1 Diabetes in the same family are the same as winning the lottery,” Herold said. “It’s not a genetic disease. So, when I started showing symptoms, my parents already knew what was happening.”

Herold’s parents, Wendy Mihm-Herold and Alvin Herold, monitor their son’s insulin levels from the stands.  “Alvin and I can see his blood-sugar level from the stands because we have a system that sends a signal to our cell phones,” Wendy said. “The tough part is when you can see his blood sugar going too high or too low. You can see a difference in his performance.”

When Jacob loses his concentration if his level’s high or his reaction time slows if it’s low, “that’s when he can get hurt,” Wendy adds. “As a parent, sometimes the ability to monitor his blood sugar can be a curse because you see it going one way or another.”

Football season is only one of Herold’s challenges. The multi-sport athlete also competes in basketball, track and baseball. Because basketball players are always running and have fewer breaks, Herold said that sport is the most difficult for him. “I can use my cell phone to monitor where I’m at during basketball because it will be within range of my insulin pump, which sends a signal to it,” he said. “The phone stays right there on the bench, so every time I come off the floor, I grab my phone and figure out where I’m at.”

“In track, I’m a short-distance runner, so that’s easier to handle,” Jacob added. “The races last around 20 seconds, so if I’m at a good level, I’ll be fine. I actually have a more difficult time managing my blood-sugar level for practices than competition. I’m busy with schoolwork all day and practices are right after school so there isn’t as much time for maintenance. On game day, I have more time between school and taking the field.”

While obviously pleased with his many accomplishments, Herold’s parents still have moments of concern and worry. “It breaks your heart when your child can’t play because his blood sugar is too low,” Wendy adds. “However, we’re very proud of him for the way he handles it.”

Off the field, Herold stays busy helping his father with work around the family farm. “It’s tough to watch your sons struggle with Type 1 Diabetes,” Alvin said. “However, Jacob does such a good job handling it and is so responsible that it makes our lives a little easier.”

As one of the standout football players in Class A, Herold may not be done with sports once he graduates next spring. “I want to play college ball,” he said. “I don’t have a certain destination in mind yet, but I want to play at the next level. I love the competition and I compete in everything I do.”