Jeb Blazevich said he was so nervous before his first varsity start at Charlotte Christian last year that he nearly threw up. He was a freshman, starting as a wide receiver in the Knights spread passing attack.
More than a year later, Blazevich, 16, has settled into his role on the varsity team, leading Christian (5-5, 1-2 CISAA) in reception yards and touchdowns and helping the Knights to a 42-41 overtime upset of conference rival Charlotte Country Day earlier this season.
"We knew he'd be talented," said Charlotte Christian head coach Jason Estep. "His work ethic is off the charts. He wants to be the best at what he does."
Blazevich (whose real first name is John; J.E.B. are his initials) started playing football in seventh grade at Charlotte Christian, following one of his older brothers, Parker, who played running back and defensive back for the Knights. Parker graduated from Christian in 2010 and earned a scholarship to play at Virginia Military Institute.
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"My brother did it and ever since I saw a game, I was like, 'That's what I want to do,'" said Jeb Blazevich. "I knew it was a fun sport and my first day, you know, that first tackle, it's like nothing else."
The sophomore said the intensity of the sport and the pride that goes with playing is what drew him to football.
"The pride of I can do this and I can do something with what God has given me," said Blazevich. "He didn't give me this big body to sit inside all day."
Blazevich's biggest advantage on the field is his body. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he is probably more suited to play tight end, but he uses his size and strength to overpower defenders.
"He does pose a mismatch for us size-wise at wide receiver; we use him a lot," Estep said.
After just one junior varsity game as a freshman, Blazevich moved to the varsity team where he started the rest of the year. He helped the Knights to a 6-5 record and the first round of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I playoffs, making 10 catches for 187 yards.
Blazevich said getting that experience last year helped him focus more on improving his play.
"I got all my jitters out the first year, which is good because now I can approach the game and actually be thinking," he said. "I really feel like that experience was really valuable and I was really thankful for that."
This year, with the graduation of receivers Matthias Farley (Notre Dame) and Garrett Huneycutt (Campbell), Blazevich knew he would be one of the top receivers.
He's filled the role well, leading the team with 513 yards and six touchdowns through nine games, including a 123-yard performance in a loss to Charlotte Latin in September.
"Coming into this year, I just knew this was going to be a big year for me and I was really going to be able to step up and get a lot of good looks, and I was really excited about that," said Blazevich.
Blazevich had to get used to a new offense this year at Christian. After running a spread, pass-heavy offense last year, Estep transitioned to a pro-style offense, with first-year junior starting quarterback Eric Lynch taking snaps under center and using the running game more.
"We don't have to do everything through the air," said Estep. "We have the capability to run the ball down the field on teams, which we've done. We have the capability to run play action and drop back and throw the pass. ... That's probably made teams prepare for us a little differently."
Blazevich said he was worried about the new offense at first, but it has opened opportunities for him.
"We still have the majority pass, but we've got that running threat that really helps draw up the linebackers, so if anything our running threat is just getting me open more," he said.
With his size, he is also expecting to play tight end if he plays in college, so it gives Blazevich run blocking experience.
The Knights, who returned just seven starters on both sides of the ball, played a tough schedule this year, their losses coming to Franklin, a 11-0 public school, Liberty Christian (Va.), conference rivals Providence Day and Charlotte Latin, and Raleigh Ravenscroft.
Blazevich said some of the most important moments for this young team have come after losses, especially the 38-24 loss to Liberty Christian, a team that was still undefeated through seven games.
"Even though we lost, I feel like we needed that more than anything," he said. "Nobody expected us to win but that's when we grew together as a team. ... It's only the moments when you're that low that you get to know somebody, get to know your brothers out there."
The Knights had a big win over Country Day Oct. 14, beating the Buccaneers 42-41 in double overtime.
"The Country Day win was a huge win for our kids," Estep said. "We see glimpses of what we have."
Looking ahead to next year, the core of the Knights offense should come back with Lynch, junior running back Desmond Lawrence and sophomore running back Bo Hines, Blazevich and sophomore tight end Garrett Bradbury. Will Grigg is the only starting receiver who will graduate.
Even though the regular season didn't end like the Knights wanted, losing 28-0 to Providence Day Oct. 29, Estep and Blazevich see a lot of potential and talent in this Knights offense.
"I'm really excited about what we're going to be in the next couple of years," said Blazevich.
(This story went to print before the NCISAA released the Division I state football tournament brackets.)