Jefferson football triumphs despite the odds

Junior Daven Kim lay unmoving on the ground. As athletic trainers and emergency staff rushed over to him, there was no telling how serious he had been hit. Kim’s teammates knelt on the ground with their heads slightly bowed, hoping that the injury was nothing serious. With the clock on the scoreboard at a halt, an eerie silence fell over the field.

This scene at Jefferson’s varsity football game against Stone Bridge High School on Sept. 29 wasn’t completely unexpected. Prior to the game, Stone Bridge, a perennial powerhouse, had been ranked the number one team in the Northern Region, while Jefferson was ninth. When Kim collided with one of the massive Bulldogs and fell to the ground for several minutes, it seemed more inevitable than unexpected.

As Kim was helped off the field, his fellow teammates embraced him while the entire Jefferson student section stood up and applauded. Several of his teammates accompanied him to the hospital.

A few minutes later, junior Nathan Kim scored the first and last Jefferson touchdown of the night.

Later, hundreds of Facebook statuses and Tweets showing concern for Daven Kim’s health went up.

“Daven’s injury was a big blow to this team,” coach Michael Richter said. “This family is so close, it was an emotional hit.”

This was only one instance of many when the Jefferson team displayed a sense of brotherhood, hard work and perseverance despite the odds. The Colonials have had to overcome many obstacles over the years, including inexperienced and undersized athletes and a lack of a neighborhood community. Countless insults and jokes get hurled by spectators at away games.

“Our school is viewed as a kind of ‘nerd school’ that can’t possibly have a talented football team,” senior Sean Waterton said. “When we’re losing, people will call us nerds but it’s worse when we’re winning, because the other team will just try to get in cheap shots.”

“Around the county, most high school football players have played youth football growing up, while only around 10 percent of ours have,” coach Michael Auerbach said. “And a lot of those players have been playing together for years, whereas some of our players don’t even know the rules when they show up for their first practice.”

With the absence of a neighborhood community, players create a sense of community on their own. This year, their season has been remarkable by Jefferson standards. A string of injuries in the middle of the season temporarily crippled the team and contributed to some disappointing losses, but the Colonials worked hard to bump their overall record to 5-4 with an upset against the McLean Highlanders on Oct. 27.

“I think the win over McLean was the first time we were healthy, and everyone saw it,” Director of Student Activities Shawn DeRose said. “Hard work paid off, and we were the team everyone thought we could be.”

Jefferson athletes have a tough schedule balancing the rigorous workload from classes and the demanding practices every day after school. Many students have hour-long or even longer commutes from the school to their home as well as numerous advanced classes. Walking through the senior parking lot, many cars sport “Jefferson: We Came for the Sports” bumper stickers as a humorous stab at the many stereotypes hampering the athletics programs at the school.

“We never make excuses, but deal with a lot of disadvantages that are unique to this program,” head coach Ken Kincaid said. “No other school has the extended day schedule, kids that drive from as far as two hours away, or have to deal with the lack of a weight training program during the day.”

The Colonials manage to spend as many elective period blocks weight-lifting or training, both during the season and over the off-season.

“Lifting and training sessions enable us to physically compete with what are often times much bigger teams,” senior Weldon Burrow said. “Mental and physical preparation are needed to win games, and each win is a testament to the dedication we show the other nine months of the year.”

This dedication is also illustrated in the success of Jefferson’s junior varsity team. In 2011, Jefferson’s freshman football team was beaten in every game, yet all the players decided to come back the following year and remain a part of the program and a part of the team.

“They worked exceptionally hard in the off-season, and came back ready to play,” Auerbach said. “They have already won three games this year, against teams that beat them just one year ago. I can’t think of anything more impressive than a group of kids who get badly beaten by another team in one year, then come back and beat that same group the very next year.”

Last year, Virginia Preps stated that Thomas Jefferson High School was the only school in Fairfax County to have never won a football playoff game, even before the “for Science and Technology” part was added to the name in 1985. At the start of the season, the team set the goal of winning a playoff game for the first time in the school’s history and is determined to accomplish that goal, with the next obstacle being a game against South Lakes on Nov. 2.

“We have worked hard for 13 weeks, hard enough that we are now within reach of our goal,” Auerbach said. “Now, we take the next step closer.”