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HOT PURSUIT: It's not one size fits all with high school defensive ends

Opposing quarterbacks don’t like the sight of ELCA defensive end Andrew Williams coming at them.

Opposing quarterbacks don’t like the sight of ELCA defensive end Andrew Williams coming at them.

Terrorizing Class A offenses is a pair of Eagle’s Landing Christian defensive ends unmatched by most teams in any classification.

Look to your left, opposing quarterback, and find Andrew Williams, a junior standing 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, with a pedigree for abusing quarterbacks and 14 scholarship offers, according to one recruiting website. Check to your right and there’s Isaac Rochell, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end committed to Notre Dame.

“God’s made them big and strong and given them incredible potential,” ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said.

They may be the prototype for college recruiters and NFL draft experts, but they aren’t the norm at the high school level.

But in talking with local high school football coaches, staff writers Derrick Mahone and Brian Paglia found out just what makes a good high school defensive end:

Speed

It’s Williams’ favorite way to rush a quarterback or take down a running back — a pure burst past the offensive lineman and nothing else.

“It just comes naturally to me,” Williams said.

With the speed of the game ever-increasing, defensive ends must keep up.

Gess said that along with speed must come something most often defined in football as motor, an insatiable desire to make a play that doesn’t die until the whistle blows.

Strength

Williams had early exposure to the position. His brother, Anthony, was a standout at Union Grove and is a redshirt sophomore at Georgia Tech. Some of his defensive education came in conversations with Anthony, but most of it came from just watching him.

“I just picked up little things here and there,” Williams said.

Take the club and rip technique.

It’s as primordial as it sounds. The ball snaps, Williams clubs the offensive lineman’s shoulder with his right arm, rips past him with his left arm and heads for the backfield.

With proper technique it can be a good move.

With strength it’s almost unblockable.

“There’s going to be a sack,” Williams said.

Hands

Zane Fields, a highly recruited defensive end at Lovejoy, says that might be the biggest asset for his position.

“You might as well be a boxer, because you constantly have to use your hands,” he said.

As with all defensive positions, the key is keeping offensive players away from the body.

“[A defensive end] has to have a great burst and be able to use his hands,” Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said.

Intelligence

It’s often said in the NFL that defense is all about getting to the quarterback.

That’s not exactly the case in high school football, according to Gess, especially in Class A.

In fact, “it’s the exact opposite,” Gess said.

Though pass-first offenses continue to gain popularity, high school football remains a run-based game. That requires defensive ends who can rush the passer and stop the run.

“You need guys who are disciplined,” Gess said.

Size

As far as Jones is concerned, it doesn’t matter.

“As long as he is bigger than the kicker,” Jones said.

He said he has coached defensive ends who were only 5-foot-8, 175 pounds but just as effective as a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder.

Jones describes the defensive end as a hybrid linebacker because they have to play both on and off the line. Sometimes they bring a pass rush, and other times they might drop back into coverage.

“For a great defensive end, he has to be first of all equally good against the pass and the run,” Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley said. “He’s got to be athletic because a lot of times a good defensive end will be responsible for not letting speedy running backs get outside of them. He’s not scared to mix it up a little bit. And they’ll have to be tough.

“If they have those qualities they’ll no doubt make a great defensive end on the high school level.”