John Champe High School senior Jaden Keuhner began developing his baseball skills as a toddler.
"Basically, I've played baseball since I could hold a bat," Keuhner said. "I started in the backyard with my dad throwing Wiffle balls to me until I got too big and started hitting them over our fence."
His passion for the game blossomed from there. After a few years of playing little league baseball, Keuhner started playing in the Northern Virginia Travel Baseball League as an 8-year old.
Keuhner, a starting catcher for John Champe's varsity team in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, saw a majority of his junior season derailed by injuries.
Back to full strength following surgery in the fall of 2018 to repair a broken hamate bone in his left hand, Keuhner's teammate dropped a 75-pound dumbbell on the same hand during indoor training leading up to the 2019 season -- breaking his fifth metacarpal bone.
Keuhner returned in time to join his John Champe teammates on the diamond for a spring break tournament in Myrtle Beach. In the final game of the tournament, Keuhner collided with a teammate tracking a foul ball near the dugout.
"It felt like I hit a brick wall," Keuhner said. "I just did a complete somersault backwards."
Keuhner suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee, bringing an end to his junior season behind the plate. Keuhner was able to return as a designated hitter late in the season.
"I couldn't catch a break ... I was so disappointed," he said.
Keuhner recovered in time to play for Diamond Elite in the summer, an important time to showcase your baseball skills for recruiting.
After catching the eye of college coaches in the summer, Keuhner continued to train hard in anticipation of his senior season. He wanted to put a stamp on his varsity career after missing most of his junior season.
Those aspirations were halted when schools throughout the state were closed for the remainder of the academic year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The thing that bums me out most is that I don't have my name up anywhere on the record board," said Keuhner, who played just five games in his final two varsity seasons. "I was thinking this senior season, I'm going all out and going to finish strong. Now, I don't get to do that. I really wanted to leave a mark on John Champe."
Despite his disappointment with how his varsity baseball career concluded, Keuhner did not allow that to affect his academics. He will graduate near the top of the Class of 2020 at John Champe.
"I've always been a schoolwork comes first kind of kid," said Keuhner, who maintains a 4.6 GPA and scored 1,420 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT. "My parents have always said you need to get your schoolwork done first and then you can do whatever. That stuck with me from an early age."
Four more years
Keuhner verbally committed in the fall of 2019 to attend and play baseball at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. He confirmed that commitment earlier this spring.
"Above all for me, I get to play baseball for another four years," Keuhner said. "My dream since middle school has been to play baseball as long as possible."
Keuhner plans to major in biochemistry at Washington and Lee in anticipation of attending medical school after graduating.
"Washington and Lee is a really prestigious school ... and a liberal arts education is so beneficial because it teaches you multiple things from different backgrounds," he said. "It gives you a very strong foundation."
Keuhner was awarded a three-year Army ROTC scholarship. "My family has a huge background in the military and I'm a super structured kind of guy. I feel like the Army's values line up with my own ... I want to be a doctor and I know the Army can help me get there."
Keuhner, who gained the attention of Washington and Lee assistant coach Brandon Cohen during a summer camp at nearby Virginia Military Institute, is eager to make an early impression at the college level.
"Our coaches really focus on getting the right players at the right time. It's not about just filling the roster as big as we can," Keuhner said, while mentioning the possibility of playing first base, third base or designated hitter as a freshman. "There are a lot of opportunities where if I show myself during this coming fall season and a few games in the spring, I could easily be playing multiple positions."
"Once I get there, I want to perform to the best of my abilities," Keuhner said of his short-term goals. "I want to get on the field and I want to do that while keeping a high standard for myself in the classroom."