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June 11, 2012
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.
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.
Recent linebackers to come through the program have included Barton, four-star recruit Terrance Kelly (signed with Oregon in 2004) and three-star prospects Brady Amack (signed with Air Force in 2008) and Blake Renaud (signed with Boise State in 2011).
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.
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)
Perris (Calif.) Citrus Hill: Stephen Van Hook (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating), Melvin Williams (two-star prospect, 5.3 rating)
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.): A.J. Latu (three-star prospect, 5.6 rating), Viliami Latu (three-star prospect, 5.6 rating)
Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit: Parker Clonts (two-star prospect, 5.2 rating), Vincent Jackson (2014 prospect with national offer list that includes Auburn, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy: Jermaine Carter (two-star prospect, 5.4 rating), Yannick Ngakoue (four-star, 5.8 rating, No. 15 outside linebacker and No. 232 overall prospect in 2013 class), Cavon Walker (three-star prospect, 5.5 rating)