Setting high expectations for yourself can lead to some disappointing moments, but for Papillion-La Vista South’s Trajen Linear, it can serve one of two purposes: He either accomplishes the high feat or uses the failure as motivation to up the ante the next go around.
Linear is a two-sport athlete who dominated both on the gym mat and on the gridiron. But even after a year in which he dominated both, the soon-to-be senior’s performance left him unsatisfied.
“I just want to be the best. Like pound-for-pound the most athletic kid on the field,” Linear said. “The strongest kid, the fastest kid and the most-athletic kid. That’s how I want it to be.”
Despite his expectations, Linear’s performance during the football and wrestling seasons earned him the 2019 ITG Boy’s Athlete of the Year.
“He puts a lot of expectations on himself in the weight room, on the wrestling mat and on the football field,” Papio South football coach Tim Clemenger said. “We have a lot of good leaders in this senior class and Trajen is one of them. He’s a guy that leads by example. In the weight room he’s always working hard on agility and things like that, but he definitely brings wrestling onto the football field and football onto the wrestling mat.”
After missing all but two games in his sophomore football campaign due to a hand injury, Linear came back with a vengeance in his first full season on varsity as a junior in 2018. In last season’s opener against Papillion-La Vista, Clemenger quickly remembered the potential Linear had the year before. Linear tallied four sacks and seven tackles for loss, breaking school records for both.
“The word I always think of is explosive with him. He’s very explosive and his get off off the ball is very well,” Clemenger said. “He’s strong and long. He loves to get after the quarterback.”
His matchup against the Monarchs wasn’t an easy one either. Linear was going against Papio tackle Preston Kellogg, who’s one of the better lineman in Omaha.
“It was amazing. It let me know where I stood,” Linear said. “Kellogg is one of the best in the state, so it let me know I was pretty elite.”
Four weeks later, Linear tallied another four sacks against Lincoln Northeast. He recorded one sack in three other games to finish the season with 11 sacks, good enough to finish second in the state and first in Class A.
“That was my goal last year to break every sack record in the school,” Linear said. “Now I’m going to try and break it all again this year.”
The six-foot-three, 215-pound defensive end made noise in other areas too. He added 24 tackles for loss, 19 quarterback hurries, three fumbles forced, two fumble recoveries and two blocked field goals while his 62 tackles led all metro-area defensive linemen.
He even played some offensive line for the Titans.
“It was tough but I’ve got a good gas tank. I don’t get tired that much. I’m a little spaz so I don’t get tired that much,” Linear said.
Despite posting eye-popping numbers, Linear was stuck with a disappointed feeling. The Titans barely missed the Class A playoffs and Linear missed making the all-state team. Both were his goals heading into the season.
He earned a spot on the 2018 All-ITG Football team and was all-state honorable mention.
“I really want to get all-state. That’s the goal again,” Linear said. “But we’re all one team. If we win as a team, you lose as a team. I was more disappointed in myself that I couldn’t help the team a little bit more. It’s always team first no matter what, but there was just (a few plays) I wish I could have back.”
Linear then moved to the wrestling mat in the winter. During football season, he plays at 200-plus pounds, but drops down to the 182-pound division for wrestling and then puts it back on in the spring.
After finishing with a 45-9 record his sophomore year and a fourth-place finish at 182 pounds at the state meet, Linear came out swinging in the 2018-19 season.
He finished with an undefeated record through the regular season and then won the District A-2 182-pound championship. At the state tournament, Linear won his first-three matches with two ending by pin to head into the Class A 182-pound championship.
In the championship match, Linear faced Millard South’s Isaac Trumble, whom Linear has known since they were kids. Trumble pinned Linear in the first period to end Linear’s undefeated season.
“It was expected of me,” Linear said of his season. “I expected (myself) to win state too but that didn’t work out. Finishing 40-1 isn’t that bad.”
“I told him after the match that’s what we use a fuel for the fire next year,” Papio South wrestling coach Jason Branigan said after the match. “That’s what we use to get better. That’s what we use to be progressive and step it up a notch. One way or another, we’re going to get better because of it.”
After the match, Linear said he was going to use the offseason to figure out how to get better, and that’s what he’s done. Like the past two years, he’s put back on about 30 pounds from wrestling season into the football offseason. Linear says he’s going to wrestle in a higher weight class next season.
Now entering his senior year, the amount of work he’s put in the offseason combined with his leadership has put Linear in position as the face of the Titan program this offseason.
“What I appreciate about Trajen is when it’s wrestling time, it’s wrestling time and that’s what he’s focused on. After wrestling when it’s football time, it’s football time,” Clemenger said.
“One thing he did was eat everything in sight. Everyday after lifting weights, we fed him peanut butter bagels. His nutrition got up and his focus in the weight room and workouts was excellent. He doesn’t talk that much so we haven’t talked much about the motivation part, but you can see it with his actions.”
Since February, Linear has been working on his pass rushing and agility moves with Papio South defensive line coach Tyler Nutsch, which has translated into Linear increasing his explosiveness, his get off and his moves have vastly improved over the past few months.
“This isn’t taking anything away from Trajen, but if it wasn’t for coach Nutsch then Trajen wouldn’t be as far long as he is. He worked with coach Nutsch in an one-on-one setting throughout the spring,” Clemenger said. “So he’s done a good job of refining the skill set Trajen already had. I’m excited to see it on the field.”
The summer offseason stretches to both sports. In April, he was named Papio South Lifter of the Year for wrestling and then in the middle of May, he traveled to Chicago for the Rivals Combine Camp for football. He said he did well for his position group, but the combine numbers weren’t good enough for himself.
Linear ran a 4.9 in the 40-yard dash at the camp before running a 4.78 at the South Dakota Camp last weekend.
The camp numbers must have been good for some coaches and in the Locker Room Camp, two weeks ago, because in the past week he’s earned offers from Iowa Western and the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“It’s pretty cool. Me, Dallas (Rogers) and Will (Swanson) have been getting some spotlight so it’s been nice,” Linear said. “But I want to show them up a little bit.”
It was an impressive year for an athlete heading into his senior year, who still is only 16 years old. Linear is young for his class, but the way he carries himself shows maturity.
“Most of the things, he did last year was at 15 years old. He’s got a high ceiling,” Clemenger said. “He likes to play stone face but every once in a while he will crack a smile.”
As for his new goals heading into his final season, Linear wants to keep raising the bar.
“I want to get 20 sacks next season. I feel like I can do it. I have eight games to do it,” Linear said. “I feel confident because I know have good hands and my get off is amazing. In wrestling, I want to be a state champion too.”