"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% 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 omelettes."
Across the street from the Islander is the Sportsman's Inn, a caf� 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."