Editor’s note: In this unprecedented, unexpected time with no games to watch, our staff of five reminisces about the best individual performances by one athlete they’ve covered during their time as News-Post sports reporters.
Walkersville native Jacob Wetzel is pretty unassuming.
He’s of average height (5-feet-10) and weight (195 pounds), and his sheepish, “Aw shucks” personality is designed almost to repel attention rather than draw it to himself.
But when he puts on a uniform or steps between the lines of a playing field, Wetzel possesses the ability to become something extraordinary. It’s a Clark-Kent-to-Superman-like transformation that continually astounds even Wetzel’s closet friends.
That transformation was in full bloom the night of Nov. 10, 2017 when Wetzel became Superman and led Walkersville High School almost single-handedly to a 31-16 victory over Oakdale in a Class 2A West regional football semifinal.
He was, quite simply, unstoppable, as his 320 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns would attest.
The next day in The Frederick News-Post, the dominant sports headline read: “Wetzel waves his wand in Walkersville’s win.” The subhead: “With one big play after another, star RB propels Lions past Oakdale.”
The true beauty of Wetzel’s performance was in the details, not the numbers.
For starters, he finished the game wearing a different jersey and number than he started it, as his trademark blue, No. 22 jersey was somehow torn in the first half. Wetzel didn’t even realize it until teammates pointed it out to him at halftime.
So, he switched into No. 28 for the second half, and this concerned him a bit because the No. 22 had some significant meaning, as it had been passed down through the family.
The lone pass Walkersville completed in the game? Wetzel pulled it in from quarterback Billy Gant on the first play of the second quarter and then dove into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 9-yard line.
The kickoff he returned 90 yards for a touchdown after Oakdale had closed a 17-point deficit to 17-10 with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter? Wetzel had to run all the way across the field and almost rudely step in front of teammate Ty Littleton to field it. The Bears had tried their best to kick it away from Wetzel.
And none of that accounts for his 51-yard run on Walkersville’s first offensive play or his 49-yard burst on the ground a little later in the second quarter that was somehow stifled on the 1-yard line. Wetzel slammed the ball into the pylon as he was being taken down, but the officials marked him down by contact, perhaps erroneously, on the 1.
On the next play, Gant scored on a quarterback sneak that staked the Lions to a 17-0 lead with still 7 minutes, 26 seconds to play before halftime.
Wetzel carried the ball 16 times during the game and finished with 217 yards and a touchdown. So, he scored as a runner, a pass catcher and as a kick returner.
He also impacted the game, as he often did, as a strong safety on defense with timely tackles and pass breakups against Oakdale’s formidable offense, led by future Divison I quarterback recruit Collin Schlee (Kent State).
“I have never played with [another] kid like [Wetzel]. I have never played against a kid like him,” Gant said after the game. “Anytime we need a big play, Wetzel is always there.”
Senior linebacker and fullback Tyler Gleason simply said, “I don’t know what I would do without that kid.”
Walkersville coach Joe Polce, meanwhile, described Wetzel as “being a different dude. He is special,” and later added that “I am just glad he is on our team.”
It should not be forgotten or diminished that Wetzel did this against Oakdale.
The only team to beat Oakdale in 2017 was Walkersville. The Lions happened to do it twice in two-hard fought battles on Walkersville’s field.
One year later, Oakdale would embark on one of the greatest football seasons in Frederick County history, steamrolling the competition on the way to a 14-0 record and the 2A state championship with Schlee in command.
On this particular night, it took a special, some might say superhuman effort to beat the Bears. And one particular player was up to the task.