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Broadneck grad Jaylen Jasper eager to reach volleyball potential at Stanford

Broadneck grad Jaylen Jasper eager to reach volleyball potential at Stanford
USA volleyball player Jaylen Jasper of Annapolis, a Broadneck graduate, puts down a spike during a match. (Courtesy of NORCECA Volleyball Confederation) (NORCECA Volleyball Confederation)

“What would you be without your sport?”

As Volleyball Magazine’s No. 1 men’s volleyball recruit in the nation in 2017, Broadneck graduate Jaylen Jasper sat among the other new Stanford student-athletes as they were presented with the question.

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Two years later, as he heads into his junior year, Jasper is still looking for an answer.

He knows he is, or likes to think he is, a down-to-earth, fun-loving guy who smiles a lot and loves to dance, even when it might not be the best time.

But Jasper is also a volleyball player — one whom coaches say has Olympic potential. The sport is such a part of his life that Jasper said he does not know what he’d be without it.

Volleyball, this defining characteristic, is actually a relatively new part of Jasper’s life. It’s not popular for boys in Maryland, so for 10 years, Jasper was primarily a basketball player, a standout forward on Broadneck’s varsity team.

Jasper comes from a family of athletes. His mother, Donna Joe, played basketball at the University of Hawaii. His father, Ivin, played football there and is the offensive coordinator for the Navy football team.

Jasper inherited their athleticism.

“He’s an exceptional athlete — I’m going to tell it like it is,” Ivin said. “He’s off the charts. He has all the immeasurables.”

Seeing that, Ivin tried to steer Jasper toward football.

“And I just retaliated like no other,” Jasper said. Instead, he turned to his mom’s sport, basketball.

When Ivin picked it up and started to become coach-like again, Jasper said he went looking for a sport his dad knew nothing about. Jasper said he might have picked up soccer or lacrosse like a “basic Marylander” if he hadn’t started going with his mom to his older sister Dallas’ volleyball practices.

One day, Dallas’ coach asked Jasper if he wanted to play with them, but it soon became clear it was time for him to move up the ranks.

“I went up for one swing and I accidentally, like, hit a girl in the face,” Jasper said. “And they told me that I was getting too good and I couldn’t practice with them anymore because they didn’t want me to hurt anybody.”

Broadneck graduate Jaylen Jasper was part of a celebrated recruiting class for the Stanford men’s volleyball team.
Broadneck graduate Jaylen Jasper was part of a celebrated recruiting class for the Stanford men’s volleyball team. (courtesy photo/HANDOUT)

By his sophomore year of high school, Jasper found the Annapolis Volleyball Club. The next year, he transferred from Archbishop Spalding to Broadneck, which doesn’t have a boys volleyball team, and played basketball for the school and volleyball for the club.

Jasper became a two-time all-county player and two-time team captain for Broadneck, but he knew volleyball, not basketball, was his future .

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That finally sank in for his father when Ivin saw “the dog come out” on the volleyball court. That had never happened on the basketball court, but, as the team set Jasper over and over again, Ivin said: “I was finally able to see it. It was eye-opening for me.”

The feedback Jasper received from USA High Performance coaches helped him and his family realize what choosing volleyball could mean. Ivin said it included the typical comments about his athleticism, but one coach added something extra. He told them, “If this kid, if Jaylen, puts in the time and the effort and he truly wants it, he could grow into one of the best players to wear the USA uniform,” Ivin said.

When Kyler Presho, Stanford’s middle blocker, first met Jasper, his first impression was similar — that Jasper was “easily the most athletic guy in the room.”

College scouts agreed.

Jasper received 17 offers from programs all over the country, including one from Stanford.

Once Presho heard Stanford was looking at both of them, he started texting Jasper more frequently. He knew he was someone he wanted on his team.

When Jasper committed and told his parents, it was the proudest moment of his life. Jasper said he thought he had overcome stereotypes that athletes aren’t smart, as well as the challenge of being a volleyball player from the East Coast, where competition isn’t as strong.

That summer, Jasper went to Lake Placid, N.Y., to train for the under-19 national volleyball team, but life decided to throw a monstrous roadblock in Jasper’s way. He found out his younger brother, Jarren, who had been undergoing heart surgery, had faced complications in surgery and his heart was beyond repair.

The coach, Sam Shweisky, told Jasper he was on the team. The decision was “pretty much a no-brainer from the beginning just because there was nobody really that could do comparably what he could do physically,” Shweisky said.

Then he sent Jasper home to his family.

From left, Ivin Jasper, his wife, Donna, his daughter, Dallas, and sons Jarren and Jaylen pose for a photo. Ivin is the offensive coordinator for the Navy football team.
From left, Ivin Jasper, his wife, Donna, his daughter, Dallas, and sons Jarren and Jaylen pose for a photo. Ivin is the offensive coordinator for the Navy football team. (family photo/HANDOUT)

Amid one of the hardest experiences of their lives, the Jasper family discovered just what it means to be a part of the volleyball community.

When Ivin finally made it out to one of Jasper’s games once the season started, he walked into the gym to see every Stanford player wearing a shirt that said “Jarren Strong.”

Back at home, Donna watched Jasper’s games on a computer. Whether they were at Stanford or away, the announcers would mention the Jaspers and lend their support. Without volleyball, Jasper said he might not have gone back to Stanford that year.

On Jan. 29, 2018, Jarren successfully received his heart transplant. Despite the trying year, Jasper had an outstanding freshman season, making the All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation freshman team and first team, Off the Block’s Freshman All-American team and an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American honorable mention. During his sophomore season, teams started to plan against him, but Presho said he thinks experiencing that will help Jasper dominate again as a junior.

“[Jasper’s] basically a cheat code on your team that no one else can stop,” Presho said.

Jasper said he feels as if he found his place in California. But being from Maryland is a staple of who he is as an athlete.

“I take so much pride from being from Annapolis,” Jasper said. “It really just shows how much I had to work and how much effort I had to put into being a great athlete to even be considered to play Division I volleyball just because the level of play in Maryland is significantly less high than in California.”

His success is helping put Maryland on the map for volleyball.

Ivin, who had little experience with volleyball before his son started playing, now watches basketball and thinks about how the players would be good at volleyball.

“So it’s kind of weird how things have changed,” Ivin said. He said he hopes the further his son goes, the more other boys will pick up volleyballs and give the sport a chance.

Jasper, Presho said from Naples, Italy, where the two of them were competing in the World University games, has “the best chance of all of us” to make an Olympic team. But Jasper is not so sure that’s his dream anymore.

USA volleyball player Jaylen Jasper of Annapolis, a Broadneck graduate, tries a spike during a match. (Courtesy of NORCECA Volleyball Confederation)
USA volleyball player Jaylen Jasper of Annapolis, a Broadneck graduate, tries a spike during a match. (Courtesy of NORCECA Volleyball Confederation) (NORCECA Volleyball Confederation)

At one time, he used to think about getting the Olympic rings tattooed on him. And he remembers the first time he put on a jersey with “USA” on his chest when he went with the U19 team to the North, Central America and Caribbean volleyball championships in Cuba.

“The feeling that I got was like I was warm inside, and I just wanted to show people what the U.S. is about,” Jasper said. “There is nothing like it.”

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If the opportunity presents itself, Jasper said he’d probably take it. But Jasper said he knows he could take his two Stanford degrees, psychology and political science, and make a good life for himself.

Jasper said that’s important to him because as much as he fought to create an identity separate from his father’s, he wants to make a life for himself the way his father did.

Despite Ivin not discussing his childhood often, Jasper knows it was rough. The fact that Ivin found success for himself and his family is one of Jasper’s greatest inspirations.

“Both of my parents, but specifically my dad,” Jasper said. “Everything I do is to make them proud, to let them know they’re not just wasting their time and money flying out here to watch me play.”

Ivin and Donna Joe said they’d love if their son took his game to the next level, but they want what makes him happy.

Jasper just isn’t quite sure what that is — if it means being a lawyer, a clinical psychologist or a professional volleyball player.

But no matter whether bar exams or Olympic tattoos are in his future, the things that most make him Jaylen Jasper won’t change.

“Jaylen will always do Jaylen,” Presho said. “Either you rock with him or you don’t.”

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