Midway through last season, Potomac Falls linebacker Chris Jaeger felt the sharp sting of a freshly sprained left ankle. He instantly knew the injury was a serious one, but also was aware that he'd probably be forced to sit out if he confessed to just how much pain he was in.
And that, Jaeger said, was not an option.
So instead of complaining, the standout linebacker gritted his teeth and went for daily treatments during school, iced his ankle during practice and then played. Though he estimates being only about 75 percent healthy during the second half of the season, he did not miss a game.
"Sometimes I'd have to have subs spell me so I could come out and ice it during games, but I'd always go back in," Jaeger said. "It's just not in my nature to sit."
Jaeger finished the season with a team-high 87 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 caused fumbles and 1 recovery. He was also used at fullback, collecting 195 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per touch.
"This kid is incredible. He's so tough, so strong, mentally and physically," Panthers Coach Casey Childs said. "He's got the kind of intangibles that I've never seen another kid bring."
After the season ended and the ankle finally healed, Jaeger committed himself to the weight room. He has grown two inches, packed on about 20 pounds of muscle -- he is now 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds -- and said he's ready for a healthy senior year.
A three-year starter at linebacker, Jaeger will start his second season in the backfield for the Panthers, where he hopes an increased role will help alleviate the pressure placed on senior Darren Bailey. Bailey rushed for 1,077 yards and five touchdowns in nine games last season.
"I want to help all I can on offense, but defense is what I love to play," Jaeger said. "When you hit someone and can tell that they're hurting -- there's nothing like that."
That approach, Childs said, illustrates the difference between Jaeger on the field and Jaeger off of it.
"You'd never know from the way he plays that he's also the nicest kid in the world," Childs said. "He's all 'yes, Sir' and 'no, Sir' off the field. He acts the way you'd want your own kids to act. But get him on the field, and he's a different person."
Jaeger hopes that will prove particularly true this season.
"I think people are going to see me as a completely different player this year," Jaeger said. "I know I feel 100 percent better."