There was no missing Potomac Falls senior linebacker Jay Branom during preseason drills. The returning All-Extra and all-Dulles District selection was extremely vocal during practices, sometimes encouraging teammates and other times reprimanding them when he felt they weren't giving enough. His presence was remarkable.

So was his hair, which when he removed his helmet glimmered in a freshly dyed, eye-catching gold.

"Did you see his fingernails are painted black, too?" Coach Casey Childs asked. "That kid is crazy. He's a wild man. But I tell you what, he's a heck of a football player, too. He brings leadership, and he brings intensity to every drill, every session. He's got a great work ethic."

Last season Branom was the most productive player on the Panthers. He set a single-season school record for tackles with 142 and a single-game record with 22. He also recorded two sacks and forced three fumbles.

With several other marquee players surrounding him on defense, including linebacker Chris Jaeger, defensive back Brandon Jackson and defensive end Adrian Tracy, he didn't assert himself as a leader in quite the same way he has this preseason.

"He wasn't as vocal last year," Childs said. "He played well, played hard. But that wasn't his time. Now, being his senior year, he's taken that leadership role and really run with it. We're going to go as Jay goes this year. "

Branom, who also will be the starting fullback this season, said he is well aware the coaches expect him not only to lead through what he says, but also by example. He said his focus is on drilling into his younger teammates the importance of giving their all and playing mistake-free football, something the Panthers struggled to do last season.

In its first five games of the 2004 season Potomac Falls went 2-3, losing by two, seven and six points.

During those five games the Panthers lost 17 fumbles, including three on special teams, and threw one interception. The team finished 4-6 overall.

"We got down on ourselves because we were coming so close and then losing because of silly mistakes," said Branom. "And things just got worse from there. So what I want the guys to know, especially the younger guys -- the juniors and sophomores -- is they can't ever give up. They have to play their hardest, every play, no matter what is happening around them."

Follow his example, Branom said.

But what about the hair?

"Ah, that one's all me," Branom said.

"I don't know why I did it. But it looks good, right?"

Don't Miss

Potomac Falls at Jefferson (W.Va.) Sept. 23, 7 p.m.

The Panthers beat the Cougars in every area last season except on the scoreboard, losing 7-0.

This Season's Schedule

DateOpponentTimeSept. 2Manassas Park7:30Sept. 9Hedgesville (W.Va.)7:30Sept. 23at Jefferson (W.Va.)7:30Sept. 30at Martinsburg (W.Va.)7Oct. 7Washington-Lee7:30*Oct. 15at Broad Run1:30Oct. 21at Loudoun County7:30Oct. 28Park View7:30Nov. 4at Heritage7:30Nov. 11Dominion7:30*homecoming

Last Year's Results

DateOpponentResultSept. 3at BroadwayL, 20-18Sept. 10Jefferson (W.Va.) L, 7-0Sept. 24at MillbrookW, 27-0Oct. 1Loudoun ValleyL, 13-7Oct. 8Loudoun CountyW, 27-21Oct. 15at DominionW, 31-6Oct. 22at Stone BridgeL, 35-21Oct. 29HeritageW, 14-7Nov. 5Broad RunL, 35-0Nov. 16at Park ViewL, 32-7

Potomac Falls linebacker/fullback Jay Branom has stepped up to become a vocal leader this preseason.