It seems ridiculous on paper.
Lawrence High’s Jon Pederson, listed at 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, will start at middle linebacker tonight against Free State.
That isn’t an unusual occurrence: He has started at the position every game this year except when he has been injured.
But Pederson has a confession to make: He’s only 5-4, 140.
“You can’t really measure him by his height,” Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd said. “He’s got a huge heart, and he bleeds red and black. He loves Lawrence High. He’s probably as strong of a leader as we’ve had in four or five years.”
Pederson, recovering from a dislocated shoulder suffered in practice on Sept. 22, returned last week against Olathe Northwest and figures to play a big role in limiting Free State’s vaunted offensive attack at 7 tonight at LHS. He’ll be wearing a harness that restricts his movement so much he can’t move his arms significantly up or back.
So what happens if an errant pass from Free State senior quarterback Dylan Perry comes near his head?
“I’m so short that it doesn’t matter anyway,” Pederson said.
Wanting to get back on the field for his third and final season of varsity football, Pederson starting rehabbing the shoulder immediately after injuring it.
“He used to rehab even before they told him he could start rehab,” Wedd said. “He had a goal to get back for district play, and he missed it by one game. It’s amazing. When he came off the field, we thought he was done.”
The Lions’ upset victory over Olathe East was fun for Pederson, even though he had to watch it from the sideline. Seeing the losses certainly hurt him, though.
“Sitting on the sideline and watching your team lose is a really bad feeling because you’re not out there with your guys like you’ve been for the last two years,” Pederson said.
“It killed him because he knows he’s not going to play football after this year,” Wedd said. “He was counting on nine football games. It hurts those kids that have put in a lot of time and effort.”
When you’re often the smallest guy on the field — even junior kicker Anthony Rosen towers over Pederson at 5-9 — effort is sometimes all you’ve got. Pederson calls himself “just a guy” on defense, who leads his team through his energy.
Wedd said Pederson always knows his defensive responsibility and is by far the most vocal leader in a mostly-reserved senior class.
“They feed off that,” Pederson said.
Wedd said Pederson is still in a lot of pain from the injury but so badly wants to help his team that he wants to fight through it. The move was approved by Pederson’s parents and doctors.
“If he can withstand the pain, we need him out there,” Wedd said.
So on Senior Night tonight against Free State, Pederson could play his last game of football.
It’s important to him, but he knows it’s also important for the rest of the team, especially the seniors.
“No matter what kind of sport you play, you gotta love it,” Pederson said. “Even if you’re the biggest guy out there, if you don’t love it, you’re not going to play very well.
“If you love it, you’re going to play your heart out.”