Jake Lauer, a senior at Rampart High School, has been named to the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band — the only musician in Colorado this year to receive the honor.
He is among 125 students who will perform at halftime during the All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Saturday.
How he won this honor is a painful story — and not because of exhausting hours of drum practice.
It was because he badly injured his knee playing football.
It started four years ago when the 17-year-old student, who had been home-schooled, enrolled at Rampart, in part so he could play football.
Jake’s grandmother, Carol Burriesci, recalls that her late husband, a former California high school coach, had concerns about this dream of Jake’s. “He knew Jake was quick on his feet, but wasn’t very bulky for the sport, only 5’5” and 135 pounds.”
Jake’s parents, John and Lily Lauer, were long ago resigned to his boldness. “He is comfortable in his skin and confident. He’s my oldest kid, he takes risks,” Lily Lauer says.
So the summer before his freshman year, Jake suited up as a cornerback at Rampart’s football camp. The team was scrimmaging with another team. It was supposed to be noncontact.
He maneuvered to block the football. “Their receiver collided with my knee. There was a popping noise,” Jake says.
Later at home, he noticed his knee “was unnaturally large and freakish looking.” Even so, he shrugged it off, telling his parents that he would be OK.
But the next day he had an MRI.
“It was disgusting. His knee was totally blown out,” Lily Lauer says. Physicians used some of Jake’s hamstring muscle to repair his knee. At least six months of physical therapy was prescribed.
Lily Lauer took Jake’s football equipment back to the coach.
Jake tried to be philosophical. “I was pretty upset. But I told myself that life goes on.”
In a fit of boredom, he took a percussion techniques class at Rampart.
He had been a big fan of “Rock Band,” a Wii game where players simulate music performances. He always chose to be the tenor drummer.
“They are the coolest in the band. You can do flashy stuff and it’s a crowd pleaser,” he explains.
Burriesci, a retired piano teacher, wasn’t surprised with the musical turn of events. Her grandson was about 10 when he asked her to teach him piano because a friend was playing “neat stuff.”
Many students learn by repetition. “But with Jake, he heard the music, you could see the wheels turning, and he would say, ‘I’ve got it’. And he had.” Still, she insisted he learn to read music and understand theory.
Jake got so good she gave him her piano.
He kept calling her for help. And then he didn’t.
“I felt sort of bad to lose my job, but not too much,” she said. “He didn’t need me because he was so good.”
After his knee healed, he had a decision to make: Should he go back to football or try out for marching band?
Lily Lauer recalls that he struggled. “We had to just sit back and let him wrestle with it.”
He chose marching band because he loved it. “I had spent a year working on percussion, and it seemed more relevant. Band has a team aspect, which I wanted, and a lot of diversity among the kids that made it really interesting.”
But by the time he decided, he’d missed getting a spot playing tenor drums. Instead he played a marimba in the pit on the sideline. Even at that, he was named best sophomore marcher. He also won a place in the winter percussion band.
His junior year, he got on the Rampart football field again — as a tenor drummer.
This year he was the drum captain, and was named best senior marcher.
Gary Arrasmith, Rampart’s director of instrumental music, encouraged him to try out for the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band.
Jake submitted a video of his marching and playing. Besides a required song chosen by the judges, he did two solo pieces, Banished Beyond’s “The Lion King” and Bill Bachman’s “Beatlicious.”
Jake’s win was announced at a school assembly in which Army officials presented him with a All-American Bowl jacket.
More than 1,300 high school students vied for the 125 spots.
“Jake is dedicated and practices thoroughly on everything he is asked to do. He’s a reliable student and a good leader,” Arrasmith says.
The bowl, in its 12th year, is sponsored by the Army and All American Games, a New Jersey-based sports management company. Ninety top high school football players are chosen for the game.
Lauer and the others get an all-expenses paid trip to San Antonio, where the band members are mentored by Army band musicians.
Jake plans to major in economics in college. “I will put music in my back pocket for things like the worship band I play in at my church.”
But for now, he is excited about playing during halftime at the bowl game. His extended family will there, too. The game is televised at 11 a.m. Mountain Time, on NBC. The marching band’s performance will be on the organization’s website: usarmyallamericanbowl.com.
Jake says, “I guess hurting my knee happened for a reason.”
Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette
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