STRATFORD—Emotion is a big part of Jaden Chuma’s game.
The Bunnell High senior defensive end carries his heart on his sleeve every time he steps on the field, even when his heart isn’t entirely whole.
Like many relatives of a member of the United States Armed Services, Chuma carries the weight of his older brother, a United States Marine, being out there somewhere in the world during these very dangerous times.
Where has Jacob Chuma, BHS Class of 2017 and a former Bulldog football player, been over the course of this football season?
Syria? Jordan? Oman?
Where might he be on this Thanksgiving Thursday, as Jaden suited up for his final game as a Bunnell Bulldog?
Turn around Jaden, the public address announcer all but told Bunnell’s No. 7 before the start of the final game of his career.
Standing there on the Bulldogs’ sideline in civilian clothes was 21-year-old Jacob, fresh from his first overseas deployment and stunning his family by coming home for the holiday.
In an emotional made-for-YouTube reunion video, Jaden Chuma rushed over this older brother and embraced him, tears filling his eyes as his heart became whole again.
“When I heard that announcement, I immediately knew I had to play my best,” Jaden Chuma said. “My brother is my role model and I’ve always had to do the best I can because of him. I didn’t come into this game with that type of mentality and when I heard that, it changed me. I knew I had to play.”
Nobody knew Jacob Chuma was coming home.
Well, one friend did, and that’s where the Marine crashed on Wednesday night after arriving back home in Connecticut from California, where he is stationed until his next deployment in six months.
“I got back and bought a ticket to Connecticut,” Jacob Chuma said. “I came straight to the game. Nobody in my family knew I was home. I just surprised everybody this morning.”
Up in the stands, the boys’ mother, Marnie Bresse, was also caught off guard.
“It was just a normal morning,” Bresse said. “We’re sitting up there and they’re talking military and I hear the name Jacob and I’m like what? I had no clue. I said, ‘That’s my kid!”
Bresse broke down as she watched her two sons embrace down on the field.
“It was crazy,” she said. “But it was wonderful. I can’t put it into words.”
It was a moment Jacob Chuma admits he’ll never forget.
“That moment that I experienced is the most amazing moment I ever could have (bleeping) imagined,” Jacob said. “That was something really special. We just hugged, and he said he’s going to have a day and I said, ‘I know you are.’”
Out on the field, Jaden Chuma plays the same position his brother did when Jacob was a Bulldog.
“My brother is way more of a star than I was,” Jacob said. “He’s just a stud out there.”
Bunnell coach Ty Jenkins knew part of Jaden Chuma was missing because his brother was dispatched overseas.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for him,” Jenkins said. “He told me how much he misses his brother, but he’s been an emotional leader for us all year.”
Jaden Chuma will be the first to tell you that it’s unnerving at times to be a part of a military family, but out in the real world—out there anywhere in the world, really—his older brother is the real hero.
“It’s scary, but I know my brother is bad-ass and nobody is going to do anything to him,” Jaden said. “I’ve got that worry, but I’ve got that confidence in him.”
A member of a Marine Expedition Unit, Jacob Chuma—who joined the U.S. Marines months after graduating from Bunnell— found himself in 12 different countries over the course of his first nine-month deployment.
“It was a great learning experience,” he said.
He also said he could see first-hand how so many of the things he learned in football could carry over into a life in the service.
“One hundred and 10 percent,” Jacob said. “The most I can compare it to is that brotherhood. You’ll never find guys like that, on your team or in the Marines, that you’ll be surrounded with and you just have that bond. I love it.”
A bond between brothers is even tighter, though, which is why Jacob Chuma wanted nothing more than to be home for Jaden’s last game.
Two weeks ago, knowing there was a chance he might be home to see his brother play for the first time as a varsity football player, Jacob reached out to Jenkins.
“He texted me and asked if he could surprise Jaden in the locker room and I told him I’d do him one better,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins contacted Bunnell athletic director Wayne Thrall, who reached out to Stratford High officials and the reunion was officially set—to the surprise of everybody.
“(Stratford) did it without any hesitation and I totally respect that,” Jenkins said. “He’s a resident of Stratford and he’s serving our country and I just wanted him to know the community of Stratford was welcoming him home.
“Yes, it was about him seeing his brother, but it’s about somebody who played football here coming back, as well,” Jenkins added. “When I told him it was going to be a big deal, (Jacob) said he didn’t want to take away from the game. I told him he’s giving to the game and what it means to this town.”
As the two embraced, the crowd showed its appreciation for the moment.
Shortly after halftime, with Jaden down to his final two quarters of play, Jacob Chuma talked about what the rivalry meant to him.
“This game, it’s everything,” he said. “Sometimes I kind of lose touch of who I am, being in the Marine Corps, out there in California. To come back here and see this, it brings me back to who I was as a kid. It’s everything.”
After the game, the brothers embraced again and posed for photos for anybody who pointed a camera their way.
“I love my brother,” Jaden Chuma said. “He’s my world. It made my senior year of football. It really did. It all just came to a very big happy ending.”
(On The Sidelines is an occasional feature column written by Stratford Sports Scene managing editor John Nash)
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