When Judd Vail was in the eighth grade, Patuxent had anything but a prestigious football history -- in fact, it didn't even have a varsity team. But by the time he was 14, Panthers Coach Jim Esposito already had pegged Vail to jump-start the program.

"I thought he could be our QB as soon as I saw him throw a football," Esposito said.

Last season, in just his second varsity game, Vail threw two touchdown passes in a 21-14 win over Surrattsville.

Then, partway through the fourth-to-last game of the season -- just when it looked like Vail had it all together -- disaster struck. While running with the ball, Vail sustained a broken ankle and would be sidelined for the rest of the season. Or would he?

After Patuxent's backup quarterback Kavin Gantt blew out his anterior cruciate ligament in the next game and third-string quarterback Danny Sauteda had to leave the season finale with a concussion, Vail told Esposito he wanted in the game.

Doctors had told him that it would be at least six weeks before he could play again, and though he could take snaps only from the shotgun, he still -- amazingly -- took snaps.

"When I broke it, I thought it was all over," Vail said. "It was so frustrating because I couldn't prove myself on the field."

He definitely proved something that night. And this season he returns fully recovered.

"He's a real gutsy kid. Most kids wouldn't have even stepped on the field with that kind of injury," Esposito said. "This year is going to be a big one for him."

FAVORITE SPORTS MOVIE

"Rudy"

"I like that he never gave up all through high school and college, and he played big for a little guy. He gave it all he had."