* Ja'Marr Chase before a recent game (right); Chase long jumping for Archbishop Rummel (LA)
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports via The Enquirer
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By Cory Mull - MileSplit
Let's take it back to 2018. Ja'Marr Chase's high school football season was over, he was officially signed with Louisiana State University and he had just a few months until graduation.
There would be no early enrollment on campus in Baton Rouge.
He could have coasted in his final months as a high schooler.
But the spring track season was just starting and Chase had competed in the sport since his freshman year. He had a tough decision to make.
Coming off an injury during football season -- a year when Archbishop Rummel went 6-5 -- why would he risk picking up another ailment with his collegiate football career ahead of him?
Many others would have considered it. Chase, however, chose to endeavor on.
His first meet was the Sugar Bowl Track and Field Classic in March. He had hardly practiced. But as the returning LHSAA Class 5A state long jump champion, Chase didn't think twice about competing.
Alex Lorio, a former assistant with Rummel's track program, remembers of the moment:
"He went to the meet. He set the Sugar Bowl Record in the long jump," Lorio said. "And it was remarkable for the fact that, he's coming off injury, he hasn't practiced all year and he comes up to the meet, with the best competition, and then sets the meet record. To me, there's a sign. He has an athletic ability here that's not ordinary."
Chase ripped off a winning leap of 23 feet, 1.75 inches. It was the third-best jump of his high school career.
He did so (almost) on instinct.
Five years have gone by since Chase's high school days at Rummel, but coaches from his past still remember his extraordinary ability to key in on big moments. On Sunday, Chase, one of the NFL's top young receivers, will look to push the Cincinnati Bengals into the Super Bowl for the second straight year against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Conference Championship game.
Chase, 22, finished the year ranked 14th in the NFL in passing receptions (87), 17th in receiving yards (1,046) and sixth in touchdowns (9).
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Before he was a burgeoning NFL superstar, Chase built his legacy in the heart of New Orleans.
He was raised in Jefferson Parish, the youngest of five siblings, in a city mad for football. As a freshman, he enrolled at Archbishop Rummel, an all-boys schools in Metairie, and showed early on signs of a prolific ability to run, jump and catch passes at an elite-level.
Even as a young teenager, Chase exhibited a composure unlike many high schoolers. In a GQ profile from July, Chase's parents told of their son's ability to compartmentalize daily life in a way that was mature beyond his years, a kid who was able to process defeat in a meaningful way.
As a young NFL player, Chase would write Post-it notes of affirmation and plaster them on mirrors.
That side of Chase likely wasn't too far off from the high school version, either. On the track, coaches also saw an athlete who was focused on improvement every day.
"He's always knew what he wanted," said Kyle Weidenbacher, who was Chase's sprint coach over his high school tenure. "His junior year, I could see more. Things were clicking. I think he knew, 'Hey, I could be the best.' The way he approached his workouts, I just remember, I would give him 200s, 150s, 100s. He went out there and he wanted it."
While football was Chase's primary focus, track wasn't far behind.
The 6-foot and 200-pound athlete almost immediately started to gravitate to the jumps.
As a freshman, he cleared 6 feet, 1 inch in the high jump -- finishing sixth at the Region 5A-III Championships -- and marked 18-5 in the long jump.
But his junior season would be the real turning point.
Chase and his coaches identified the long jump as an area of development. He went on to compete in the event seven times over the season, culminating with a win at the District 5A-9 Championships, a runner-up finish at the Region 5A-III title meet and a career-best mark of 24-2.25 at the LHSAA Class 5A Championships.
"Just his ability to control the movements at his size and the speed," Weidenbacher said, "to be able to put it all together, that in itself was special."
Chase's shining moment was his 24-foot jump. That performance went on to break a 35-year-old school record and it still ranks among the top 25 performances in Louisiana outdoor history.
What's more, though, is maybe what could have been in the sprints.
Chase didn't run a single sprint event as a senior and ran just nine times between the 100m and 200m distances across his junior season. He produced bests of 11.05w and 22.52, respectively.
But consider Chase's pro day at LSU. He ran a 40-yard-dash time of 4.38 seconds.
That time, which featured an explosive drive and solid ground contact from the starting position, showed his ability to accelerate and hold his top speed with the best receivers in the draft.
Weidenbacher has no doubt he could have been a sub-11 sprinter. "Oh for sure," he said. "His top end speed is incredible."
At the same time, Chase's pro day at LSU also showcased his preternatural jumps ability. The Louisianan claimed a 41-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump. It was par for the course.
Since high school, Chase has developed into one of the league's best receivers.
He was the NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2021 and has been named to the Pro Bowl in two straight seasons.
The next goal for Chase?
Another trip to the Super Bowl, of course.
JA'MARR CHASE PHOTO DECK -- Via USA TODAY
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