This is another installment of our Football 101 series heading into the start of the fall high school football practice. Find all the stories, as they appear, along with our Football 101 video series with coaches from Huntley, Marian Central and Johnsburg here.
It takes a special athlete to be a linebacker.
It takes an imposing physical specimen, but it also takes a confident leader, especially at middle linebacker. A middle linebacker doesn’t just worry about himself, but everyone else on the field as well.
“The (middle) linebacker is basically the quarterback of the defense, the captain of the defense,” said Kyle Gara, a Marengo junior middle linebacker. “You have to really know everyone’s positions and what they have to do in their roles for that position. You have a lot of responsibilities, but you just have to make sure you know what everyone is doing.”
It starts with organization. The linebackers have to be on the same page with the defensive line to make sure there aren't two guys attacking a hole, or none at all.
But they also have to communicate with the defensive backs about who is covering whom, making sure no one is left unmarked. Without communication, the consequences can be catastrophic.
“You’ll have people going in the wrong places,” said Prairie Ridge’s Parker Tomlin, a junior middle linebacker. “It can end in a touchdown. It would just be bad for a defense.”Draft.
The responsibilities aren’t the same for each linebacker, however. There’s the “Mike,” the middle linebacker, the man in the middle. He makes the calls on the field and does most of the pre-snap communication.
A Mike has to be a big, strong athlete who can bust through blockers, fill gaps and blitz. While pass defense is a responsibility, the run is the main priority, especially in high school. When the ball is snapped, he takes his read step, and if it’s a run, instincts kick in.
“When you see the blocker coming through the line and the running back behind him, it’s just about how much you want to get to that running back behind him and how much you want to bust through the blocker,” Gara said. “You can’t be taught that.”
Outside linebackers have a slightly different role, whether it’s the “Sam” (strong-side) or “Will” (weak-side). They aren’t as big, and lateral quickness is vital.
They are often lined up on receivers and are responsible for covering certain zones. Most importantly, they have to keep the offense contained and prevent runners from getting to the outside.
The key job for an outside linebacker on our team defense is to keep your outside arms free at all times,” Crystal Lake South senior outside linebacker Nick Coriaci said. “What you’re going to do is you’re going to fight off any oncoming blocks or any backs coming to block you, and you have to use your inside arm to shed the block and keep your outside free to make sure no one get’s outside of you.”
Physical attributes are important, but it’s vital that a linebacker is mentally tough, because a defense is only as good as its quarterback.
“You’ve got to be a good leader,” Gara said. “You have to be strong personality-wise as well as physically, because when things aren’t going so well, you’ve got to be able to lift everyone up, and you’ve got to fight through adversity.”