Jalen Stroman showed the instinct, confidence and leadership needed to start at free safety as a freshman for Patriot High School’s varsity football team. Head coach Brud Bicknell noticed those traits immediately along with Jalen’s work ethic and height. He was a coachable kid.
Bicknell’s only reservation was whether Jalen was strong enough as a growing 14-year-old to tackle older players. Early in Patriot’s first scrimmage, Bicknell received his answer.
“It wasn’t going to be a problem,” Bicknell said. “He was not going to back down for a single thing.”
It was that type of attitude and approach that made Jalen a fixture in Patriot’s secondary and made him the only freshman named to the first-team all-Cedar Run District offense and defense.
Stroman was so well-thought of by the district’s other head coaches that he was a unanimous selection.
“I wanted to come and work to be the best,” Jalen said.
And be his own person.
“I want to make my own footsteps and be my own leader,” Jalen said.
Jalen is the younger brother of Greg Stroman, a dual-threat quarterback at Stonewall where he totaled 2,777 rushing/passing yards and 32 touchdowns his senior season to earn all-state honors before graduating in 2014 and heading to Virginia Tech. Greg became an all-conference cornerback at the Division I school and is now a projected pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The brothers had the opportunity to compete at the same high school.
The family lives in Patriot’s zone, but Jalen considered enrolling at Stonewall Jackson coming out of middle school. He didn’t play middle school football. Instead he played with the Manassas Mutiny, a youth club team.
“That was my decision,” said Stroman’s father Greg Sr. “I didn’t want to put too much on his plate with the Mutiny and training with me.”
Some of Jalen’s Manassas Mutiny teammates were going to Stonewall, but in the end he decided against switching high schools.
“The thing of it was we wanted to stay local,” Greg Sr. said. “It would have been a hassle going back and forth to another school. Patriot is a great school.”
After enrolling at Stonewall as a freshman, Greg had the option of going to Patriot in 2011 when the school opened. But the Pioneers only fielded a junior varsity team that first season, which would have left Greg with two years of varsity. He elected to remain at Stonewall, a decision Bicknell understood.
When Jalen decided to stay at Patriot, Bicknell made sure he drew no comparisons between the two brothers.
“We tried not to put any pressure,” Bicknell said.
Jalen and Greg have similar lean builds, but at 5-11, Jalen is much taller than Greg was as a freshman.
“They are different, but also the same,” Greg Sr. said. “They are really competitors.”
Stroman said he talks to Greg at least three times a week about football and specifically his season. Greg has the password to Jalen’s Hudl account, which allows him to review game footage and critique his play. Greg encourages his brother to put in the necessary work it takes to play major Division I college football and then in the NFL.
Jalen soaks in everything Greg tells him from maintaining his grades to developing his skill set through various drills.
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Greg attended Patriot’s home game Oct. 13 against Forest Park, where Jalen made a crucial play late in the game when he batted down a pass attempt at the goal line to prevent a score. Afterward, Greg applauded Jalen’s efforts but also pointed out where he needed improvement.
Jalen has the ability to play any position in the secondary, but feels most comfortable at free safety, where he directs his fellow defensive backs.
“He’s a vocal leader,” Bicknell said. “As a ninth grader, that’s unheard of.”
Bicknell tried to convince Jalen to play quarterback, but Stroman declined. On offense, his future is at wide receiver, a position filled this season by veteran players. But next season, Bicknell plans to use Jalen more as a wide out, something he’s looking forward to.
“I like to make plays,” Jalen said.
Given his schedule, Jalen doesn’t get the chance to see Greg much. But he’ll be in attendance Saturday when Greg will be honored during senior day prior to the Hokies’ home game against Pittsburgh. He’ll then watch Greg play, observing every move with the hope of someday charting his own course.
“He paved the way for me for a long time,” Jalen said. “I want to make my own path.”