"There were a lot of broken bones," says Jason Chorak, recalling
growing up as one of three crazed Croatian-American brothers on
Vashon Island in Puget Sound, a 15-minute ferry ride from
Seattle. "When I was in fourth grade, we were playing football
in the backyard, and I fell on top of a rock pile. My brother
Pete jumped on top of me and broke my left arm. It was useless
for six months."
Jason sometimes kept his older brothers at bay by swinging a
telephone receiver overhead by the cord, like a bola. He
connected once--with himself, when the phone snapped back and
hit him in the face, accounting for a front tooth that is
chipped to this day. Yet the phone was a logical weapon for this
pass-rushing outside linebacker who loves to ring bells and
talks incessantly to opposing linemen.
"Jason has a...strong individual personality," says Washington
coach Jim Lambright, fumbling for a euphemism to describe
someone who is nuts. "He knows his role and jumps into it with
both feet." That role, Chorak says, is "to hit quarterbacks."
In 1996 Chorak had a school-record 14 1/2 sacks and was the
Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. A consensus preseason
All-America this year, he has three sacks for the 3-1 Huskies,
two of which came in Washington's 26-14 victory over visiting
Arizona State last Saturday.
But Chorak recognizes that football is not war--because he has
seen what real war can do. In the 1960s his parents, Pete and
Neja, immigrated to the U.S. from Croatia. Jason has twice
traveled to his ancestral homeland, most recently in the summer
of '96, where he visited relatives whose lives were ravaged by
the fighting in the former Yugoslavia. "The only thing those
people ever knew was hard work," says Chorak, "and then they saw
everything they worked for destroyed in the war."
Which is why the Choraks find any excuse they can to host
raucous reunions for their large extended family in the Seattle
area, and occasionally for relatives from Croatia. "We roast
pigs and lambs," says Jason, 23. "We drink a lot of booze and
sing Croatian songs." The focus of such get-togethers is the
Islander, the family-owned restaurant on Vashon Island that
specializes in the feisty Neja's gargantuan pancakes. They are
the size of LP records, larger than the plates on which they are
served, and Jason--who is 6'4" and 255 pounds--insists nobody,
not even he, has ever consumed an entire stack of three. "I've
got to give my mom a lot of credit for making me as big as I
am," he says. "But I can't eat the pancakes. I go for the
Across the street from the Islander is the Sportsman's Inn, a
cafe owned by big brother Peter, now 28. The middle Chorak
brother, 25-year-old Mario, is a University of Kentucky dental
student who aspires to one day repair Jason's chipped tooth. In
a recent Huskies game program Mario is quoted speaking fondly of
his brother: "I'll always remember him as a snot-nosed little
kid. But I guess it's a good thing he doesn't hold a grudge. He
would snap me like a twig today."
Jason, though, would never mix it up with his brothers these
days. "My mom," he notes gravely, "could take us all."
COLOR PHOTO: MICKEY PFLEGER [Jason Chorak in game]