Stressing speed and athleticism over power, a new breed of linebackers is changing the way teams play defense
HOMESTEAD (FLA.) coach Bobby McCray didn't know much about Marcus Robinson when the linebacker joined the team as a sophomore in 2005. But in the Broncos' third game that season, against Killian (Miami), McCray got a preview of the kind of spectacular play Robinson would make routine. In die third quarter Killian's quarterback ran a wide play-action bootleg toward Robinson, who had guessed wrong and let him get outside. "Marcus lost containment on the quarterback, but he still held the guy to negative yards," McCray says. "I asked one of the coaches, "Did you see that play?'" Recalls Robinson, matter-of-facdy, "The quarterback tried to turn the coiner, but I turned on my wheels."
Wheels like that aren't often found on linebackers, but high schools are following the trend that's become popular with NFL and college coaches and are putting their best athletes at the position, with less emphasis on size than on speed Case in point: The 6' 2", 225-pound Robinson, who can run the 40 in 4.47 seconds, had 22 sacks last year. He also plays wideout.
"The new breed is the guy outrunning the backs and dominating sideline to sideline," says CSTV recruiting expert Tom Lemming. "Guys that normally would have played tailback or even quarterback are now playing linebacker."
It's a banner year for second-line defenders, with quantity—Lemming ranks 15 among his top 100 prospects—and quality. Along with Robinson, who has verbally committed to Miami, here are three other seniors to watch:
Nigel Bradham, 6' 2", 225 pounds
Wakulla (Crawfordville, Fla.)
On the first day college coaches could visit high school juniors last spring, Florida's Urban Meyer showed up at Wakulla to see Bradham. "He was outside [Nigel's] classroom doing the Gator chomp," says Wakulla coach Scott Klees. "It was 7:30 in the morning." Last season Bradham had 150 tackles, eight sacks and six defensive touchdowns; he also had seven receiving touchdowns while playing tight end. His future, though, is on defense. "When he finds the ballcarrier, his hitting ability stands out," says Klees. "He'll play linebacker [in college], but he's so fast he could play strong safety."
College choice: Despite the visit from Meyer, Bradham has verbally committed to Florida State.
Arthur Brown, 6' 1", 210 pounds
East (Wichita, Kans.)
East hasn't had a winning record in more than a decade, but USC coach Pete Carroll and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops included south-central Kansas in their travels to get a firsthand look at Brown. Rated the No. 1 player in the class of '08 by Scout.com, Brown had 158 tackles and eight sacks last season. In East's opener, a 46--2 win over North (Wichita), Brown showed that he's got the speed to play on the outside, but his natural position is middle linebacker. Twice he came up the middle while North's QB was in the shotgun and arrived just after the snap. "I couldn't tell if [North] was going to run or pass because he tackled the quarterback so quickly," said East coach Brian Byers.
College choice: Undecided.
Shayne Hale, 6' 3", 235 pounds
Gateway (Monroeville, Pa.)
Fast enough (with 4.5 speed) to play middle linebacker and strong enough to play defensive end, Hale had 106 tackles (13 for loss), five sacks and three forced fumbles in 2006. He was at end in a preseason scrimmage against Bethel Park (Pa.) last month when an opposing tailback ran a toss sweep to the opposite side of the field, breaking it for 35 yards with the end zone in sight. "Shayne came all the way across the line of scrimmage and tackled him from behind," says Gateway coach Terry Smith. "It wasn't like he dove at his legs, either. He just swallowed him up."
College choices: Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia and West Virginia.
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Friday Night Lights
JENKS (Okla.) at UNION (Tulsa), Sept. 7
Some 30,000 fans are expected at the University of Tulsa's Chapman Stadium for the 40th edition of this rivalry, dubbed the Backyard Bowl because the two schools are just seven miles apart. Over the last 11 years, the Jenks Trojans, ranked No. 1 in Oklahoma, have won eight 6A state titles; the other three belong to the No. 2--ranked Union Redskins. Expect a shootout as a pair of senior quarterbacks, Union's Brandon Rogers (right) and Jenks's Mark Ginther (left), face off.
END OF THE LINE
The second-longest winning streak in high school history was snapped last Saturday when Independence (Charlotte) blew a 13-point halftime lead and fell to Elder (Cincinnati), 41--34 in OT. Independence had won 109 straight games by an average of 34.6 points, going seven years without a loss. (De La Salle of Concord, Calif., holds the record, with 151 straight from 1991 to 2004.) Elder QB Johnny Groene (above) completed a 34-yard pass to 6' 7" tight end Kyle Rudolph on 4th-and-l5 to set up the tying score with 35 seconds left in regulation and then threw the winning 14-yard TD pass to wideout Josh Jones on the second play of overtime. "I was not prepared [to lose]," said Independence coach Tom Knotts. "Our hearts were set on breaking the record."
Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) senior Gerell Robinson showed his versatility in a 29--6 win over Brophy Prep (Phoenix). The 6' 4", 210-pound Arizona recruit scrambled for a 30-yard TD on Hamilton's opening drive at quarterback, moved to wideout and hauled in an 18-yard reception, and later, back at QB, threw a 42-yard completion to set up another score.
SI's Top 10 Power Rankings
l CARROLL (Southlake, Texas) 0--0
Should kick off season with easy win over Lake Highlands
2 NORTHWESTERN (Miami) 1--0
QB Jacory Harris threw career-best 330 yards in '07 opener
3 ST. XAVIER (Cincinnati) 2--0
Next test: Saturday versus Cleveland power Glenville
4 SOUTH PANOLA (Batesville, Miss.) 1--0
Streak of 61 wins on line Friday vs. Clarksdale (Miss.)
5 KATY (Texas) 1--0
Following a 45--0 blowout over Klein, the Tigers face Woodlands on Saturday
6 NORTHSIDE (Warner Robins, Ga.) 1-0
Showdown Friday vs. crosstown rival Warner Robins
7 POLY (Long Beach, Calif.) 1-0
Expect Jackrabbits' speedy secondary to overwhelm non-league foe Birmingham (Van Nuys, Calif.)
8 JENKS (Okla.) 1-0
State's biggest regular-season game of the year: Trojans meet rival Union
9 NOTRE DAME (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) 0--0
Star QB Dayne Crist makes '07 debut vs. Canyon
10 ST. RITA (Chicago) 2--0
For a win on Friday, D must slow offensive power of Leo Catholic
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JAMIE SABAU (HALE)
FAST AND FURIOUS Hale (45) had five sacks and 13 tackles for a loss in 2006.
JAMIE SABAU (ROGERS)
MARY SHARP (GINTHER)
THOMAS E. WITTE