When the linebackers at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle take the field each week this fall, they won't merely be attempting to dominate their opponent.
They also will be trying to outperform one another.
"It helps us a lot," De La Salle linebacker Victor Egu said. "We're competing against each other to see who can get to the ball first and make the tackle."
Does that type of friendly competition distract them? Not at all. It simply brings out the best in each of the Division I prospects who comprise arguably the nation's most talent-laden high school linebacker corps.
Linebacker Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/217 Rating: Three stars (No. 39 outside linebacker in 2013 class) College: Undecided
Quotable: "I saw him at the Oakland Nike Camp about a
month ago. He was really long and lean, just a very fluid guy. He looks like
someone who, if he continues to grow, could maybe be a weak-side defensive
end. That's how long he is. Oregon's offered, and I think he could fit into
that system really well or into the Cal system really well in the sense he
could be a linebacker or a defensive end, maybe a stand-up defensive end or
something like that. He's a very athletic kid." - Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney
Linebacker Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/210 Rating: Four stars (No. 8 outside linebacker, No. 51 overall in
2013 class) College: Undecided
Notable: Hutchings has the type of national offer list that
befits his ranking. Hutchings often has been linked to USC, though he also
visited Washington last weekend. Other schools to offer include Michigan,
Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Quotable: "Hutchings I think is definitely the best player
on that defense. He's very active. He runs all over the field. He has great
timing. He's a really intelligent kid. He's obviously coached by some of the
best coaches in high school football, and he really absorbs it well. He
really doesn't have much of an ego at all either." - Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney
Linebacker Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/205 Rating: Three stars College: Undecided
Notable: Moffitt has received offers from Arizona, Colorado, Houston, UNLV and Washington State.
Quotable: "With Hutchings and Egu and [three-star
defensive end] Austin Hooper and all the guys on that defense, he might get
overlooked a little, but I saw him in person and he's got a really good
frame. He could probably add some more muscle, but he's a kid who in games
flies around the field and makes plays all over." - Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney
Egu holds offers from Nebraska, Notre Dame and the majority of Pac-12 schools, yet he isn't even the most highly-ranked player in this group. That honor belongs to Michael Hutchings, the No. 8 outside linebacker and No. 34 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting class. They're joined by three-star recruit David Moffitt.
"As that group jells into their senior year, they're going to be pretty unstoppable on defense," Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said.
That group helped De La Salle finish 18th in the RivalsHigh 100 national rankings last year. De La Salle capped the season by winning its third straight California Interscholastic Federation state championship Open Division bowl game, 35-0 over a previously unbeaten Westlake Village Westlake team that ended up 41st in the RivalsHigh 100.
The 2011 group of De La Salle linebackers also included Michael Barton, a four-star recruit who signed with California and will begin his college career this fall. De La Salle recorded five shutouts last season and allowed only four of its 14 opponents to exceed seven points.
"Last year, the De La Salle defense was arguably the best defense they had in school history," Gorney said, "and that's really saying something."
Barton's departure obviously creates a major challenge, as any defense would suffer after losing a four-star prospect. But the remaining linebackers believe they're good enough to compensate for his absence.
"I feel we'll be better than we were last year, with me and Moffitt maturing another year," Hutchings said. "I think we'll compete for one of the best trios we've had here. We're ready to make a little bit of history.
"From Day One, when the three of us are in the game, we'll know all eyes are on us."
That kind of attention is inevitable when you play for one of the nation's most consistently successful programs.
De La Salle won a record 151 consecutive games from 1992 to 2003 and has posted an overall record of 384-25-3 since Bob Ladouceur took over the program in 1979. De La Salle finished fourth in the RivalsHigh 100 national rankings in 2010, 39th in 2009 and 55th in 2008. Its list of former players includes Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams and former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer.
That tradition means plenty to this current group of De La Salle linebackers.
"It's a very big deal," Egu said. "Our linebackers are definitely the heart and soul of our defense."
These three seniors say they've learned from the linebackers who came before them.
They got a chance to play alongside Renaud and Barton and remember the leadership that Barton provided this team last year. Now they're eager to pass those lessons on to the underclassmen.
"It started with Barton's leadership," Hutchings said. "He kind of owned the middle and worked that into the rest of our defense. And we had a shutdown corner last year, Josh Jenkins, who's going to Army. There were a few seniors around that defense who kind of inspired us juniors to bring our level of play up and to keep everything running smooth. That's what we're working on right now, getting those younger guys up to speed. They're going to see a new speed of game, especially with us playing a strong schedule. We're getting them up to speed right now, so they know what to expect."
De La Salle's front seven on defense will also include defensive end Austin Hooper, a three-star recruit who has received offers from the likes of Oregon and Notre Dame. That kind of star power could help this defense build on the momentum it established last season.
After all, these De La Salle linebackers can't stop competing, which is what makes them so great. Their desire to anchor one of the best defenses in the history of this storied program comes from the same zeal that makes each of them want to deliver every tackle.
"That's how it was last year," Hutchings said. "We knew Barton was going to try to be the first man there. It's a race. We want to see who sheds blockers fastest, who reads fastest. It causes everybody to step up their game. It's going to be a competition."
In this competition, the only loser is the opposing ball carrier.
POWER POSITIONS: WHAT IT'S ABOUT
As we head into the summer, we've decided to look ahead to the 2012 fall
football season by rating which high schools have the best prospects at each
position unit. Here is the series schedule:
OTHERS OF NOTE (in alphabetical order)
Dallas (Texas) Skyline: Marquavian Jones (2014 prospect in Rivals.com database, though he has no reported offers), Roderick Moore (two-star prospect, 5.4 rating), Isaiah Williams (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating)
Dayton (Ohio) Chaminade-Julienne: Darrien Howard (four-star prospect, No. 11 inside linebacker in 2013 class, committed to West Virginia), Ja'mel Sanders (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating)
Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University: Aubrey Duty-Tyson (unranked prospect with offers from FCS programs Florida A&M and Stetson), Nick Internicola (three-star prospect, 5.6 rating), Skai Moore (three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 35 outside linebacker in 2013 class), Khalil Sewell (2013 prospect in Rivals.com database, though he has no rating and no reported offers)
Hollywood (Fla.) McArthur: Jeremy Benjamin (three-star prospect, 5.6 rating, No. 34 inside linebacker in 2013 class), Cameron Johnson (two-star prospect, 5.3 rating)
Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast: Tyrell Lyons (three-star prospect, 5.7 rating, No. 27 outside linebacker in 2013 class, committed to Florida State), Daniel McMillian (four-star prospect, 5.9 rating, No. 4 inside linebacker and No. 66 overall prospect in 2013 class, committed to Florida)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel: Darien Carr (two-star prospect, 5.3 rating), Reggie McGee (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating), Marcel Ngachie (all-purpose athlete who projects as a linebacker or safety, two-star prospect, 5.3 rating), Dorian O'Daniel (four-star prospect, 6.0 rating, No. 4 outside linebacker and No. 40 overall recruit in 2013 class, committed to Clemson)