The day after Catoctin won the 1A state championship, the Frederick Gazette ran a photo of Cougars star defensive end Sean Reaver . In the photo Reaver is holding up a young boy, Evan Eckenrode, who is clutching the championship trophy. Evan, the son of assistant coach Jim Eckenrode, is smiling broadly, showing off the prize like a boxer after winning a title belt.
Curiously, Reaver's eyes aren't trained on the trophy or the flashing cameras. He's staring straight at Evan, a look of wonder on his face. It is the epitome of happiness.
"Evan comes to all our practices and our games and he always talks to us," said Reaver, who has the photo on his kitchen table. "He's part of the team; I wanted to make sure he got a chance to touch the trophy, too.
"When the photo came out, Mrs. Eckenrode saw it and told me it made the whole experience worth it. That made me feel really good; I was so happy for them."
A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. The image captures a simple act of humility and compassion, but it said so much about Sean Reaver. His First Team All-Conference selection? His 60 tackles and eight sacks last year? His multiple Division I suitors? Those are mere peripherals. They say nothing about who the person truly is.
"He's first class, high character," said Catoctin coach Doug Williams. "He's such a great kid. In that photo, he cared more about that boy enjoying the moment than anything else."
Reaver is the most recognized player in Catoctin's four-decade history. He's 6-feet-4, 225 pounds, runs a sub-5.0 40-yard dash, benches close to 300 pounds and squats near 400. He's been manhandling offensive lines and terrorizing quarterbacks since the ninth grade. And even though he's only a junior, Reaver is already receiving interest from Penn State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers, Georgia Tech and Duke, schools that probably never heard of Catoctin until just recently.
"I've had a lot of good players," said Williams, who is in his 17th year at Catoctin. "But he's the got the most potential of any player I've had in terms of what he could do at the college level."
But excuse Reaver if he's completely dumbfounded by all this hoopla. He's just a high school kid from the hills of Thurmont. His ego is about the size of a shriveled pea.
"To think -- of all the people in all the high schools across the county, I'm one of the best?" Reaver said. "I can't believe that. Amazing."
Perhaps the only thing more amazing than Reaver's modesty are his physical skills. In the Monacacy Valley Athletic League, he's a Goliath among Davids. But size alone does not a player make.
"He has a lot of intangibles besides just being big," Williams said. "He has a great motor and he goes 100 percent all the time. He's competitive and extremely coachable. And with his size, his athleticism and his speed, you have one special player."
His coach gushes over him, but try asking Reaver what makes him "one special player."
He might blush a little. He might hesitate. He might trip over his words. Finally, he'll tell you a story about his game tape. Last week Coach Eckenrode compiled Reaver's 2009 highlight film, which included a bevy of bull rushes, spin moves and athletic maneuvers. Reaver's reaction to it?
"Wow, was that really me?" he said. "There was this one play on there against Boonsboro where I was rushing the left tackle and he just completely fell over trying to block me. I couldn't believe it. When I'm making plays I don't even realize it."
Oh, but his opponents do. In his sophomore year, Reaver came to prominence after a superb postseason. In the 2008 regional championships, Catoctin led Pikesville by two scores. Pikesville faced a fourth-and-long and decided to go for the first down. As soon as the quarterback took the snap, Reaver bowled over the tackle, pushed aside the running back and planted the quarterback face first in the turf.
This year, Reaver secured his legacy against New Town in the regional semifinals. Early in the second half, the New Town quarterback began to scramble to his right. Reaver charged in from the left, chased him 25 yards, caught up and dropped him for a sack.
"That was very impressive," Williams said. "He takes care of that edge pretty daggone good. Teams have to game plan for him. If he isn't sacking the quarterback, he's hurrying the quarterback or the quarterback is running for his life away from him."
Reaver admits he's performed well, but he's not naïve. He knows if he doesn't improve on the field and in the weight room, those BCS schools won't hang around forever. His goal this offseason is to put on 15 pounds of muscle, lower his 40 time and master his technique. Eventually, he hopes, it will lead to a scholarship offer.
"I'm very determined," Reaver said. . "Just because I'm getting looked at now doesn't mean I'm getting a scholarship to a big school next year. Nothing is for sure.
"But if I want something, I'll go get it."
Just like the quarterbacks he chases.