When the Damascus High School football team plays host to rival Clarksburg on Aug. 31, Swarmin’ Hornets rising sophomore Jalen Christian likely will line up all over the field as a wide receiver, cornerback and returner.
But a year ago, during Damascus’ season opener at Clarksburg, Christian was an unsure and wide-eyed freshman making his varsity debut. His first assignment was to defend former Coyotes two-way standout Stefan Houston, a University of Maryland recruit, who will spend the fall at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
On the second play of the game, Christian, reading a bubble screen to Houston, broke toward the line of scrimmage and secured the tackle.
“Coming from [the Damascus Sports Association] Cougars, I wanted to play [junior varsity] last season because I didn’t think I was ready,” the 5-foot-10, 160-pound NCAA Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision recruit said.
He began his youth football tenure as a 6-year-old in the Germantown Sports Association.
“I was so nervous and thinking, ‘I am just a freshman so what am I doing out here with these guys that are juniors and seniors?’ … But after that second play of the season, I knew I was ready.”
From that moment forward, Christian was a key contributor for Damascus as it qualified for playoffs for a state record 14th consecutive year and advanced to the Class 3A West Championship game.
Individually, Christian was second on team in receiving — behind Penn State recruit Zach Bradshaw — with 18 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He also was a starting defensive back and a star on special teams, averaging 37.1 yards per kick return with a touchdown and 10.6 yards per punt return.
“I just like making plays and competing,” he said.
Christian’s performance allowed him to gain notoriety in the college ranks, and in turn, he will enter this fall as one of the county’s most prolific players.
“He’s so dangerous with the ball in his hands and he’s very developed for this stage of his career,” said Damascus assistant coach Gregg Frazier, who also handles most of the team’s contact with college recruiters. He has helped Christian distribute a highlight tape. “I still think he is in a little bit of awe with the attention, but he’s got the right mindset and he’s only going to improve.”
Since receiving a verbal scholarship offer from South Carolina following a final exam in January, Christian has added offers from N.C. State, West Virginia and Oklahoma. Per NCAA rules, college coaches cannot directly contact a potential student-athlete until the beginning of their junior year. Christian, however, can initiate a conversation.
“I’m not surprised at the offers because my grandfather told me that, ‘It doesn’t matter what school you go to because if you are good enough, Division I schools will find you,’” Christian said. “I feel like I’ve worked hard and deserve it, but I was shocked it all started so soon.”