Jalen Christian trains to lead Damascus to big 2014 season


Damascus sophomore Jalen Christian (2) returns an interception for a touchdown in a win against rival Seneca Valley. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

When you’re already one of the area’s most electrifying players, able to inject energy into your team from both sides of the ball, already committed to South Carolina and already a first team All-Met, what’s left to do? What’s left to motivate you heading into a senior year meaningful for nostalgia and awards, maybe, and for titles of course,  but not for the offers that drove you to that point?

Jalen Christian works. He works to get better and more explosive, those pursuits to which most high school players are dedicated in the summer. But Christian’s also working to lead. His Damascus team was 9-2 last year, and as a standout defensive back and wide receiver, Christian was at the center of everything, and tried to conduct himself as such.

This year, with “the weight of committing off my shoulders,” as he puts it, Christian wants to focus on funneling the attention and respect into strong leadership.

(Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post)
(Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post)

“I’ve been a leader since my sophomore year, and a lot of people have been leaders,” Christian said. “But I just want to get better at that. Help my team get to states, do whatever I can, and have a strong season.”

Christian says that growth comes in part in the midst of the Swarmin’ Hornets’ grueling summer workouts, some of which still make him nervous, he admits.

Four times a week, Damascus lifts and runs and conditions. Asked which days are particularly hard, Christian named three, laughed, then said “well, three of the four.”

“You just have to think, you’re going to get through it,” Christian said. “It’s only going to last two hours, so you have to put that grind mode on.”

One workout is ladders: 400-meter runs in a certain time, then 200s, then 100 meters down the ladder to shorter distances. Other days feature suicides and on another, 10 100-yard sprints with squats in between, followed by a lot more running.

“They’re more mentally a challenge than phsyical,” Christian said. “You have to go to practice, change your whole mood, get ready for your work ethic and have that grind mode. Go to work every day, with no days off.”

Christian said he didn’t fully understand workouts as an underclassmen. He worked, but “didn’t pay attention to what he was doing.”

“From freshman year to senior summer, I’ve seen a big improvement,” Christian said. “I don’t like to take days off, just keep going hard and push myself to be the best I can be. Because then I see what I can do.”

Physically, he’s training to “be more explosive” but also to “not get injured.” He also wanted to focus on his body weight: if pounds of muscle came on, Christian wanted to make sure he could carry them without dropping the now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t burst that earned him 20 offers in the first place.

His South Carolina coaches want him at around 175 pounds — “be sure I can carry the weight” — so that when he joins the Gamecocks their coaches can build him up while making sure he adds speed, too.

“Right now I”m lifting, running, training — and eating a lot so I can keep my weight,” Christian said. “A lot of running, so I can get faster.”

“These workouts this year are about finishing, taking everything with pride,” Christian said. “It’ll help us in that last second of games, and that’s what I’m trying to help show my teammates.”

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