Jeremy Hairston relishes being at the center of the action. Being a 285-pound lineman doesn't hurt in that respect, but it's also part of his engaging personality. He loves to talk -- to teachers, students, teammates and, especially, opponents.
"I guess you could call me the Mayor of Lackey," said Hairston, the anchor of the Chargers' defense the past two years. "I'd get around, say hi to the principal sometimes, stop and talk, talk to the office ladies."
Hairston, an All-Met last season as a defensive lineman and also a standout on the offensive line, let his play do most -- but not all -- of the talking in Saturday's Good Samaritan Bowl all-star game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The game matched the area's top graduating seniors, with Interstate 95 the approximate dividing line for the East and West rosters.
Hairston, who has signed to play at Shepherd University in West Virginia, recorded two sacks to help the East team to a 35-23 win. One of those sacks came against Northwest quarterback Ike Whitaker, the All-Met offensive player of the year and a top recruit for Virginia Tech.
"It felt good since he's going to Tech," Hairston said. "He's a big-time recruit, so I was happy to catch him."
After the sack, Hairston and Whitaker had words.
"They weren't too kind," Hairston said. "They weren't too friendly, but that's what you say in the heat of the battle."
Hairston and the rest of the East all-stars had Whitaker on their minds before kickoff, and it showed. He was sacked twice and finished 4 of 23 with three interceptions. And Hairston found his way into the backfield repeatedly.
"He probably hasn't seen that type of pressure from such an athletic and quick defensive line," East Coach Eric Knight of Potomac said about Whitaker. "It was frustrating him. He was hurrying his passes."
That Hairston, the All-Extra defensive player of the year, played a role in Whitaker's struggles was a measure of redemption. Whitaker led Northwest to the Maryland 3A title, beating Lackey 14-9 in the championship game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Hairston's performance Saturday, which included 21/2 tackles for a loss, hardly came as a surprise. He had 74 tackles, 15 for a loss, and 10 sacks during his senior season.
The stellar campaign was the culmination of a high school career that began with Hairston starting at center as a freshman at McDonough at age 14 and ended after 47 consecutive starts.
"To me, that's just a mind-boggling statistic," Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick said. "That a kid could, first of all, be good enough to play at that level as a freshman, and then on top of that play on teams good enough to play in that many games. . . . He was a kid who was just a warrior."
After his sophomore year, Hairston transferred to Lackey to enroll in an engineering program. After one summer of practice, he was named team captain before playing in a game for the Chargers. "It was a no-brainer," said Lackey teammate J.B. Walton.
"Knowing him and knowing what type of player he was, it wasn't difficult for him to come here and become a leader," said Chadwick. "He has a presence about him. He demands that other kids give everything that they've got to the cause of winning."
That cause will start anew at Division II Shepherd, a school that was not in Hairston's plans at the end of the football season. But Division I recruiters were uneasy about his height -- 6 feet -- so Hairston adjusted.
"People passed me up because I'm short," Hairston said. "Hey, I can't do anything about it. Things happen for a reason. . . . I think this is the best fit for me."
And so does Shepherd Coach Monte Cater, who plans to use Hairston on the Rams' offensive line.
"We consider him to be one of our best recruits," Cater said. "He's a smart player, he's aggressive and he has good feet. . . . We think a lot of him, we really do."