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Va. soldier, former high school coach killed in Afghanistan

Friday - 6/29/2012, 10:55am  ET

By MATT CHITTUM
The Roanoke Times

LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) - After such a stellar high school career, Chase Prasnicki was bound to play college football, and he had a few colleges to choose from.

But some demanded more than others. The Rockbridge County High School star quarterback thought long and hard before settling on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Playing for Army, after all, meant joining the Army while his country was at war.

"But then I thought `What's better than fighting for your country? There's no more honorable thing can you do,'" Prasnicki said in a 2006 Roanoke Times story.

Prasnicki graduated from West Point in 2010, but it was only Sunday that he finally got the chance to fight for his country. That's the day he landed in Afghanistan.

By Wednesday night, Prasnicki, 24, was dead, killed by an improvised explosive device.

He wasn't yet supposed to be on patrol, said his former football coach at Rockbridge, Jason White. But Prasnicki volunteered anyway.

The vehicle in which he was riding apparently drove over the IED about 6 p.m. by the clock in his hometown of Lexington. Prasnicki survived evacuation to a hospital, but died there, White said.

That Prasnicki volunteered for the patrol didn't surprise White.

"From the word go, he was a leader, and he wasn't going to be outworked by anyone, either," he said. "When he spoke in the huddle, no one else talked, and everybody listened."

White recalled a defining moment in Prasnicki's career, during his junior year when Rockbridge had fallen behind Fort Defiance 18-0 in a playoff game. Prasnicki put the team on his back and led them back to within two points, with the ball and under two minutes to play.

Prasnicki took a minute and thirteen seconds to get his team to within 13 yards of a winning touchdown. The coaches called a pass play, but Prasnicki saw an opening, tucked the ball under his arm and slipped tackles all the way to the winning score.

"He told his teammates we were going to win, and they believed it," White said.

His leadership came from not only that intangible quality only some have, but from a discipline rare in kids his age. He not only studied the playbook year- round to the point of memorizing every receiving route, he worked out five days a week on the offseason and held himself to an 11 p.m. curfew year-round.

"If you want to be a leader, you have to lead by example," he said in a 2005 Roanoke Times story.

With his senior season at Rockbridge under way, he already had a scholarship offer from Virginia Military Institute. His father, David Prasnicki, who played football at Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista and at Emory &Henry College, is an executive at the VMI Foundation.

Chase Prasnicki visited Duke University, too.

But West Point had been in his thoughts since his dad suggested it during his freshman year.

He was recruited there by Bobby Ross, a VMI graduate who coached the San Diego Chargers to a Super Bowl appearance. Ross had been a member of Prasnicki's Lexington church before taking the job coaching at West Point.

He ultimately played little at West Point, never rising above backup quarterback, though he got significant playing time his senior year after switching to defense.

In a blog post Thursday about Army football, a Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald- Record sports writer called Prasnicki, whose nickname there was "Nitro," "the ultimate team player."

In that 2006 Roanoke Times story, Prasnicki made it clear he was still enjoying life as a college football player.

"Running out there with all these people, there's smoke and bagpipes. It's a rush," he said. "We come in with a big flag. And everybody has a flag, but here the flag really means something."

Prasnicki is survived by his father, mother Debbie, sister Lauren and brother Tyler, and his wife. He married Emily Nichols seven months ago Tuesday.

___

Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)