The defining moment this season for the Gwynn Park football team happened Oct. 29 against visiting Laurel. The Yellow Jackets had just fallen behind 7-6 with 4 minutes 57 seconds left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jason Hunter caught the ball inside the 1-yard line, raced up the middle, and on a field where puddles of mud were causing players to slide all over the place, Hunter cut and sprinted past a host of would-be tacklers with ease to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with 4:43 remaining.
"Once he got to some speed, I knew it was over. Jason was gone," Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes said. "That's just the way he is. When the game is on the line, you want the ball in his hands. What makes Jason so dangerous is that he can do it all out there. He can beat you in so many ways."
Still, Hayes has been told by several college coaches that the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Hunter is too small.
But his emergence since transferring from Oxon Hill before his junior season has been a major factor in Gwynn Park making the playoffs for a school-record third consecutive season.
Hunter's leadership is something Hayes can't teach, as is the respect he earns in the locker room. Hunter's word is law among the players.
If a player drops a pass, Hunter orders him to do 20 push-ups on the spot, the same punishment he would give himself. He also handles the pep talks at the end of practices, and makes sure players have rides for unofficial team functions.
"He's the most underrated player I've ever seen," said Gwynn Park senior linebacker Wesley Jefferson, who is regarded as one of the top high school players in the country at any position by numerous recruiting analysts. "He's a big-time player. He's a player that when he gets his shot in college, you're going to hear about him."
Hayes refuses to listen to the college coaches who decry Hunter's size. More important, so has Hunter.
College football is full of small players who were overlooked by certain programs and treasured by others. Hunter is a player who ascribes to the theory that if tacklers can't catch him, they can't hit him -- and that his elusiveness and speed would be attributes to a college program.
One of the team's five captains, Hunter has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season and has been the cornerback in charge of guarding the opposition's top receiver. He has made about 50 tackles and broken up nine passes, in addition to seeing time at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
"I do whatever I can do for us to win," said Hunter, who is hoping to parlay leading his team to its first state football title into a college scholarship. "I want to prove that I have what it takes to play in college, and that I am versatile enough to play whatever position my team needs me to play."