Linebacker Gage Jacobson is one of North Medford's top tacklers this season. - Julia Moore

Strength of Spirit

One thing is for sure when it comes to North Medford senior Gage Jacobson, you really shouldn't try to tell him what he can or cannot do.

It's not that Jacobson is a bad seed, far from it. In fact, he'll use the word "sir" more times in a conversation than "dude," and that's saying something these days.

The real reason why you shouldn't challenge Jacobson on what he can do is because, well, he's proven people wrong time and again thanks to his determined spirit.

If Jacobson had bought into what his doctors were telling him two years ago, he wouldn't be in uniform today for the Black Tornado football team.

Only two days removed from his sophomore football season — his first on varsity — Jacobson stumbled into a situation that has had a lasting impact on who he is and who he refuses to become.

Out on a hunting trip, Jacobson took the safety off his gun to potentially look for a shot. As he looked down into a canyon, the steep slope of the terrain caused him to slip and careen down a rocky bluff. The gun went off when he landed, the unintentional bullet tearing through his left calf in one frightening second.

"I pretty much just blew up my calf," Jacobson says of the accident. "As soon as it happened, I felt no pain. My leg was just tingly and I went into shock almost immediately. I got a feeling like my leg had fallen asleep and you just can't move it because it won't work."

After being rushed to the hospital, Jacobson was informed that he had lost about 35 percent of the muscle in his calf and torn away all the flesh on the inner part of his calf. The doctors had to do a skin graft because he didn't have enough skin left to sew his calf together.

In all, Jacobson says he underwent five surgeries and spent a little over a week in the hospital. While there, the only feedback he got in the early stages was daunting to say the least.

"I was told I would never walk right again," he recalls. "I was told that it would be a couple years before I'd even be able to walk without a limp."

And sports? Well, maybe by his senior year if he was fortunate.

"I refused to let them tell me that," he says. "I didn't tell them that, but that was what I was thinking. I was just like, 'No, that's not going to happen.'"

And, sure enough, it didn't.

Jacobson was on crutches for about seven weeks before moving into a walking boot during Christmas break. By spring break, he was back walking on the football field and determined to be ready for his junior campaign.

"In 28 years of coaching I've never been around anything like that before," says North Medford head coach Jeff Olson. "That's certainly the most unique injury I've ever been around."

Even before he could walk, Olson says Jacobson could be found in the weight room, crutches cast aside and limping from station to station to work out any way he could.

"He just didn't let an injured leg get in his way," says Olson. "It's kind of indicative of his personality, though. Nothing's going to get in his way."

And it hasn't.

Jacobson returned to his linebacker spot as a junior and also showed tremendous promise at running back.

"When I got out there, I was just nervous and wondering if it was going to be the same, and it was," the 18-year-old says of rejoining the team. "Literally when I play, I forget that I have an injury in my leg. It's almost like it's not there, that's how I look at it, like it almost never happened."

A 150-pound linebacker as a sophomore, he played at about 185 pounds as a junior because of the time off. The speed that made him such a force on defense in his first varsity season wasn't exactly there the second time around, but Jacobson says everything has come full circle by now.

"Today I feel as fast or faster than I ever was," he says.

The results certainly have proven that to be the case. Jacobson enters Friday's regular season finale against Thurston at Spiegelberg Stadium as one of the top tacklers on the Black Tornado defense.

"Here he's essentially got no calf left and it hasn't slowed him down at all," Olson says in amazement. "He definitely knows how to deal with pain and adversity. He really picks people up by the way he plays."

Two weeks ago, it was his ball-hawking ability that helped destroy a Crater drive inside the final minute and preserve a 28-21 win for North. He leaped over a fallen player and dragged down a Crater player from behind to initially keep the Comets at bay, then fired through a gap for a tackle for loss on fourth down.

"That's what I love about defense," says the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder. "For me, it's just more of a rush to have the pressure on you like that. I just love the feeling of being able to make those kind of plays."

It's certainly no accident that Jacobson always seems to be there when it matters most. Even a torn tendon in his toe suffered during this year's season opener hasn't limited the impact he's had on the Black Tornado defense.

"He's our go-to guy on the defensive side of the ball," says Olson. "In those types of situations, we want him to be the focal point. We've got 10 other guys certainly that feed off him, but he's the batteries that run our engine, he really is."

That's certainly high praise for someone who is typically one of the smaller players on the field. But as Jacobson proves over and over again, physical traits are no measure for how big of a heart someone possesses.

"He's just a tremendous competitor and pays absolutely no attention to his size," says Olson. "It's definitely not an issue for him because he's got a motor that doesn't stop. It doesn't matter where you play him, defense or offense, he doesn't want to come off the field and goes full speed in everything he does. He's a coach's dream in the way he plays."

Jacobson says a great deal of his undeniable spirit stems from his hunting accident and overcoming such long odds. It also doesn't hurt that he's simply not intimidated, regardless of how big the person is across from him, and he's confident in the coaching that has gotten him to this point.

"I don't care about the size, I work hard at what I do and try to be the best linebacker I can be," he says. "I have probably the best linebacker coach in the world (in former Southern Oregon University standout Damien Schubert). I love him and I give all the credit to him. He taught me how to play and I consider him one of my best friends."

And how would he sum up the trials and tribulations that have led him to this point as a three-year varsity starter for the Tornado?

"I'm happy with where I'm at," he insists. "No one's going to bring me down."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail

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