Pressure mounting from all sides, with nowhere to run, the Bishop Moore freshman fullback took a hard hit at practice.
As players piled on top of him, a teammate landed on his head. Diagnosed with a concussion, his first serious injury, the Hornets player sat out for several weeks.
"Facing that injury mentally prepared me for this," Jason Hajek said.
- Jason Hajek on football and his career as an officer
- Orlando police officer Jason Hajek, who played football at Bishop Moore, talks with current Hornets Jamie Keys, left, and Alex Tiralosi. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel)
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Hajek said that injury was similar to the day he was shot in the abdomen while on duty as an Orlando police officer in July. Hajek, who was on the 2006 Bishop Moore team that was the only one in school history to post an undefeated regular season, will be honored Friday night before the Hornets face Edgewater in the teams' first meeting since 1991.
The link between playing high-school football in Central Florida and a career in law enforcement is not unique to Hajek, who said he knows at least 20 other former players who serve their communities. Their hard work, discipline, trust and ability to overcome adversity were learned first on area fields.
"The game itself teaches discipline, both mental and physical, and a certain level of toughness and resiliency," said Bishop Moore coach Matt Hedrick, who coached Hajek. "I would have to think that serves them well."
It does in the cases of Orange County Sheriff's Dep. Steven Hallock, who played with Hajek at Bishop Moore; Det. Grant Mead, who played at First Academy; and brothers Det. Ben Thorpe and Orange County Sheriff's Dep. Nick Thorpe, both of whom spent four years as linemen for Lake Highland.
"Now, instead of trusting the block, that the receiver is going to make the catch and that the quarterback is going to know if there's a blitz coming," said Nick Thorpe, "I got to trust that my partner knows, 'Hey, this is what we're going into. This is what could happen.'''
These men first learned that level of trust when they wore a much different uniform and helmets. Years after that undefeated season, Hajek will reminisce with former teammates about the Hornets' loss in the second round of the playoffs.
"It's a shoulda, coulda, woulda sort of thing," Hajek said.
That thought process does not apply in football or law enforcement.
"You have to make the right decision in a very intangible amount of time that has repercussions, not only for yourself but for a citizen," Ben Thorpe said. "Just like you have rules in football that are very tight, you have to make sure you follow the rules and do everything appropriately in law enforcement."
Thorpe is a homicide detective who has worked in sex crimes and robbery. Game time for him is when he walks into the interrogation room. If he wins, he walks out with a confession.
"You've got to remember intricate plays and apply them correctly when you're fatigued," he said. "You have to stay sharp and make sure you're executing the play correctly."
Said Hajek: "Never quit in the face of adversity."
And Hajek has had his share.
After graduating from Bishop Moore, Hajek followed his dream — and his grandfather's footsteps — and went into the Air Force in hopes of becoming a fighter pilot. He sprained a knee in the first week of basic training and was released two months later.
He joined the Orlando Police Department in January 2012, finished rookie training in November and was sidelined in his first year on the job by a felon's bullet.
"It was one of those things like, 'OK, I'm not going to die. I'm not losing a lot of blood. It's just going to be a painful and horrible injury,'" Hajek said. "The first thing that [upset] me was [thinking], 'If I have to end my career in medical retirement at 24, I'm going to lose it.'"
Now 25, Hajek expects to make a full recovery. At least for one night, he will be back on the field of play.