Reifenschneider’s awesome opening night an inspiring story

Reifenschneider’s awesome opening night an inspiring story
Dave Mast

Fellow Pirates’ defender Clayton Downs, 53, congratulates Jackson Reifenschneider following his third sack of the first quarter. After illness kept the Garaway senior out of commission the past two seasons, he returned to the game with a vengeance.


For every star player who steps on the field of play and makes big play after big play, there is a story behind the story.

Few of those stories are more inspiring than that of Garaway senior defensive lineman Jackson Reifenschneider.

A highly touted youngster coming out of middle school, Reifenschneider played his freshman year for the Pirates, then was sidetracked due to a blood disorder that derailed his athletic career.

Fast-forward to Friday, Aug. 18 when the Pirates hosted Bellaire in a season-opening showdown between two teams that put on a classic game last season.

After two years without stepping on the field, Reifenschneider lined up on Garaway’s front line and proceeded to play like he’d never missed a beat. The burly senior spent most of his time in Bellaire’s backfield, harassing the quarterback and gobbling up running backs behind the line of scrimmage. He recorded three sacks — in the first quarter — and made a shambles of anything Bellaire was hoping to do through the air.

His performance helped pave the way to a lopsided 38-6 victory in a game that most people felt would be a closely contested match-up between two good programs.

Following the game, Reifenschneider was as humble off the field as he was ferocious on it and deflected any praise to his creator.

“That felt amazing. It felt great to finally be back,” Reifenschneider said. “I had to quit playing because my body just couldn’t do what I wanted it to do on the field. I kept working to stay physically sharp, and the good Lord looked kindly upon me and allowed me to get my senior season, so this season is for him. I wouldn’t be here without my faith, so everything is in his name.”

Reifenschneider also had plenty of praise for his teammates, especially his fellow defensive linemen who helped him navigate through the many question marks and the art of processing plays and being where he needed to be.

I owe a lot to these guys up front,” Reifenschneider said. “Guys like Clayton (Hershberger) and Wyatt (Wallick) and many others have been instrumental in helping me gain ground and get reaccustomed to what’s going on. These guys have been amazing. I have so many questions because I’m like a freshman out here running around. I know sometimes I probably get annoying with all of these questions, but they’ve been supportive and working with me, and it’s been inspiring to me.”

That support and input led to a most memorable opening night for the Pirates and for Reifenschneider.

He said the goal is to force teams to pick their poison when choosing to focus on one of the linemen, and that this night was his night, but next time it may well be someone else’s night to shine.

He also said the coaching staff drew up a winning formula to attack Bellaire up front and keep them off balance with loads of pressure.

For a senior who has had to watch the game from afar rather than to be in the mix banging helmets and making plays, this was an inspiring way to get back into the swing of things.

“I had no idea what to expect,” he said. “I guess neither did they, though. I’m not on any scouting reports.”

After this performance it’s likely he won’t be making that statement any longer.

He said he understands every game may not be like this one, but he said he will continue to work hard to help the team any way he can and fight as he approaches every obstacle.

“Our front seven is the strength of our team, and when you throw a guy with the skillset of Jackson into the mix, it only adds to the depth and the strength of an already quality group,” head coach Jason Wallick said.

Wallick said he talked with Reifenschneider at last spring’s prom and told him he’d love to have him back on the field if it was a possibility.

When Reifenschneider got the word from his doctor that he could go full steam ahead in returning to the program, his mother called Wallick and told him she had a son who was eager to join the squad.

“We knew he was going to make us better,” Wallick said of Reifenschneider. “He was a gifted kid coming up through, and we knew as a freshman he could be something special.”

How special? Did Wallick foresee three sacks in the opening quarter?

“Nope, didn’t see that coming,” Wallick said. “But it definitely set a tone, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer kid.”

A nice kid? Perhaps, but those Bellaire players racing around in the backfield might beg to differ because all they saw all night was a big No. 8 in their face.

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