Column: Under the Helmet

Brennan Miller, Staff Writer

As Gunn High School running back Matt Mertz (‘11) leaked into the flats, an imaginary eight yard box extending from the hash marks to the sideline, I realized my mistake. I was in man-to-man coverage with Mertz because my fellow linebackers Michael Cullen (‘11) and Will Glazier (‘11) were blitzing. Mertz snaked up the sideline as I trailed in hot pursuit. In an awesome display of blocking prowess, Gunn running back Josh Jackson (‘11) dealt me a body blow worthy of Ronnie Lott. Or as my Dad would say, “Roonnieeeee babyyyy!!!” Though I still maintain that the hit wasn’t very painful, it became somewhat of a viral video, earning a Play of the Week title on Eenersports.com. Even my fellow linebackers were quick to deal out the zingers.

In addition to the weeklong humiliation, I also was frequently asked the question, “Why would you play a sport where you can literally get the life knocked out of you?” Without thinking

I responded simply, “Cause I love it.”

I love the defense, the offense, the special teams. I love blocking and throwing and catching. But more than anything, I love to hit.

That once-in-a-lifetime hit is a total release. It’s every muscle in your body working in perfect harmony to deliver one bone-crunching, potentially humiliating, smack down. You are discharging all the week’s trials and tribulations, hardships and havoc, into one testosterone filled, violent uncorking of legal assault.

Linebackers view opponents as nameless, faceless dark souls that solely exist to be destroyed. The only reason the opposite team wears a different color is so that linebackers can distinguish those who may live from those who must die.

A middle linebacker is almost a coach in a helmet, the defensive equivalent of a quarterback. I’ve got to remember all the check downs, all the reads, all the keys; elements foreign and unnoticed by many Paly fans. Based on any number of wrinkles thrown in by a sly offensive coordinator, I have to recognize and react, changing the defense accordingly.

After these carefully deduced reads are taken into account, all in less than a second, a linebacker only thinks about one thing: ATTACK.

What looks to the crowd as mass chaos and testosterone excretion is actually a calculated and methodical process of containing and subduing all potential offensive threats.

Finally, the moment I’ve been waiting for all week long. That first hit. That first taste of contact against a jersey that is not green and white.

I work towards the line of scrimmage and toss away the guard trying to block me like an unusually heavy bag of trash. I spot the ball carrier trying to cut up towards the hole that is rapidly opening to my left and I shuffle towards it. I plant my left foot in the ground as my weight shifts, gearing up for the tackle. My arms wrap around him and my facemask buries into his chest. My hips roll forward echoing every power clean I did in the off-season. My legs drive under me, propelling me through his body, which feels weightless compared to the force I am delivering. The running back leaves the ground for a split second as his body accelerates towards the artificially green turf.

He failed. I won. Now let’s do it again 20 seconds later.