LOCUST GROVE, OK —
Whether it's playing football, racing four-wheelers or just washing dishes, Jason Pirtle will try to win at it.
“I like competing in anything. Doesn't really matter what it is,” Pirtle, a Locust Grove sophomore, said.
Pirtle has been a rising talent for several years, first making a splash in his elementary years racing four-wheelers, but Pirtle will get his first taste of national recognition this summer playing for the Team USA 16-and-under football team.
LG head football coach Matt Hennesy knew Pirtle would make noise when he started coaching the Pirates last season, Pirtle's first year playing high school ball.
“As soon as I got here, I saw something special in him. He's so much bigger and so much faster than everybody else, so athletic,” Hennesy gushed. “I saw a D-I kid. He can not only take our team to the next level, this [Team USA selection] could also help him take himself to the next level.
“He's got great ball skills. At free safety, receiver...you'll see him make catches that are just unbelievable. He's your prototypical D-I prospect.”
Add that raw talent to Pirtle's natural hunger to win, and Pirtle become's a coach's dream player.
Hennesy was familiar with the Team USA program after a quarterback from Tahlequah-Sequoyah made the starting squad a few years ago. Since then, Hennesy had kept an eye out for exceptional talent to nominate, and Pirtle fit the bill.
But just getting to the tryout was barely the beginning.
“There's thousands and thousands of kids trying out,” Hennesy said. Over 2,500 made the trek to Dallas for tryouts earlier this year, just one of several sites across the nation where tryouts were conducted.
“Up until that Wednesday [before the tryout] he decided he wasn't even going to go,” Jason's father Mark Pirtle said.
“It wasn't like he was blowing it off, he just had so much other stuff going on, with basketball and everything else,” his stepmother Bambi added.
Eventually, Jason and Pirate quarterback Mason Fine decided to head to the Lone Star State to give it a shot. Jason was selected as a free safety, while Fine was chosen as an alternate replacement at his position.
“It's huge. It starts to get them noticed,” Hennesy said.
Hennesy pointed out that most big schools decide on scholarship offers when players are still one or two years away from graduating, and Jason is doing himself a big favor by getting onto the national team.
“I'm also excited for what it does for Locust Grove,” Hennesy said. “To have a kid at a 3A school, just starting to build a program, get picked to go play in this game over thousands of kids trying out all over the United States, it's big.”
Jason said he is excited to play for Team USA this summer, but he hasn't forgotten how important the Locust Grove team and staff has been to him.
“The coaching staff [at Locust Grove] has been great,” Jason said. “They're always pushing me to do my best. It's hard sometimes, but you got to have somebody pushing you. They're always there for me.”
They were there for him last season, when Jason hurt his ankle during the season after earning major playing time.
“He's a special kid. Most kids can't come in and contribute as a freshman, and then go right into basketball, but he's one of of them,” Hennesy said.
“He's always been super competitive, that's just his nature,” Mark said. “Whether it was with his racing, or football or basketball or anything that he's done.”
Jason is a multi-sport star at Locust Grove, playing football and basketball and running track, and he's always expanding his sports palette.
“I tried golf,” Jason said with a laugh, “but it didn't go very well.”
“Any sport he wants to try out, we support him 100 percent,” Mark said. “That's how it's always been. With him, you don't have to encourage very much. He's got that competitive spirit.”
Jason works for his stepmother at a restaurant resort washing dishes, and Bambi says he would compete with someone even at that. “Anything becomes a competition,” she said.
The Team USA games will be played July 18 and 19 in Dartmouth, Mass. on the campus of the University of Massachusetts.
“We'll go down, have team meetings, a mini-camp, and then we'll be split off into two different teams, practice all week and then play the game,” Jason said.
And as for Mom and Dad?
“We got our tickets last week,” Bambi said between snapping pictures of Jason.
“It takes support from friends and family,” Mark said. “It's gotten expensive, but it's worth it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”