Damascus High School junior receiver/defensive back Jalen Christian carries himself with a noticeable aura. His body language, the way he interacts with teammates and how he understands his responsibilities all contribute.
Most of all, it shows during games.
“He’s playing as a senior, for sure, if not college level of confidence where he knows he’s the best player on the field most times when he’s out there,” Damascus football coach Eric Wallich said.
But Christian sure hopes not.
“I never want to feel comfortable,” Christian said. “I never want to settle.”
That mindset dates back two years, when Christian joined the high school program after a standout youth career.
Wallich, not wanting to put a freshman on varsity but also needing secondary depth, was conflicted about how to handle Christian.
Christian was not.
He wanted to play junior varsity with his friends. Varsity could wait a year as far as he considered.
But Christian says he benefited from the spending two years prior to the current season on varsity, and Wallich agrees, seeing how much Christian has improved each year.
“He’s very intelligent. He understand how to bait a receiver on defense, understands how to set people with routes,” Wallich said. “There are lots of kids with that same athletic ability — not lots, but there’s a handful. But what separates him is putting it all together with the intelligence that he has, too.”
Christian has already assembled a lengthy list of scholarship offers: Clemson University, Connecticut, Duke, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Temple, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Or as he describes it, “just a lot mail.”
For now, he’s focused on Damascus’ season, including this week’s game against Rockville. The Rams average 315 passing yards per game, but have not yet faced a defensive back like Christian.
For the previous two years, Christian has sometimes been overshadowed by his talented older teammates. But as much as Christian strives to keep the edge he developed as an underclassmen, Rockville and other opponents are surely game planning for him because he at least appears comfortable, and a comfortable-looking Christian is highly effective.
“Jalen was kind of able to be the undercover guy,” Wallich said. “Now, it’s Jalen’s turn to be the main guy, and I think he’s clearly on everybody’s radar.”