Ask any current or former player what Sterling Golden Warrior football has been for the past decade, and the answer is nearly identical every time: smashmouth run game on offense, solid line play on both sides of the ball, and linebackers who fly around the field and make plays.
Last season, first-year head coach Jon Schlemmer saw some things from his linebacking corps that he didn't necessarily like … and as a former defensive coordinator, that didn't sit too well with him.
"There were a couple of things we didn't do real well last year, and one of them was tackling," Schlemmer said. "So we went back to square one, and dedicated ourselves to fixing that this summer. We won't really know until we go full speed, but these guys are ready to get back out there and show me."
One thing that should make a big difference this year is experience. Five players who started for most of last season at linebacker are back, although only three of them will be back in that position this season.
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But even with Bryant Lilly moving to quarterback and Joe Brouilette switching to the defensive line, the Warriors are confident their linebackers will be back on form in 2013.
"The No. 1 key for us is to be physical and hit hard," Brouilette said. "We want to get back to playing Sterling Golden Warrior defense, like all the greats have before us."
Ask these linebackers about those who have come before them, and their eyes get a bit glassy and a reverential tone reverberates in their voices.
"There have been plenty of amazing linebackers here at Sterling," senior Alex Soriano said, citing Ryan Hermes and John Lopez as recent members of that crew. "They were all tough hitters, great at reading the offense, and we really look up to them and try to push ourselves to follow in their footsteps."
Soriano, classmate Willy McCormick and junior Brandon Dennis are the three linebackers returning to that position this fall. While Soriano talks about getting after it and being a leader on defense, McCormick is looking for a little redemption.
He missed the last 2½ regular-season games and the first-round playoff loss after tearing three ligaments in his right knee against Geneseo in Week 7. While he's still playing things cautiously and testing it out, he realizes the season opener is so close he can almost taste it.
"I'm pretty excited for the first game, just ready to get out there and knock somebody on their can," McCormick said. "I want to make sure I have no regrets at the end of the season."
McCormick said he feels the time spent on the sideline at the end of last season will be beneficial to his performance this year.
"It was a different view, and I learned a lot by watching my teammates and studying film," he said. "Instead of being in the middle of everything, I could kind of look at it from the outside. I think that's going to help me when I'm back out there."
Brouilette will also be relying on his linebacker experience, even though he'll be a few yards closer to the offense this year. He has the strength to take on blocks, but also the speed to beat the bigger offensive linemen to the gaps, and the toughness to get up and fight harder when he gets knocked down.
Because of his intangibles, Schlemmer asked the junior to move up and "put his hand on the ground" this year. Brouilette saw the advantages almost instantly, and has been working on his swim moves and bull rushes ever since.
"I think it helps tremendously that I got to read defenses from the linebacker spot last year … and now I'll be even closer," Brouilette said. "I can see better what's coming at me – a pulling guard, a kickout from the fullback, whatever – and recognize it quicker … and react quicker."
It's that kind of film study, preparation and dedication Schlemmer loves to see, though it doesn't surprise him in the least. He knows how much of this his players have taken upon themselves, and he's optimistic that his linebackers will think less, trust their instincts more and react quicker now that they have a year of varsity experience already under their belts.
"You don't even have to day it to them; they're smart enough kids, and they can see the missed tackles and the misreads on film without me pointing it out," Schlemmer said. "We're not asking them to change the world, just to do their jobs and make plays and fly around the field.
"They've put in the work, and they'll be prepared and ready to go right off the bat every Friday night, and just play their game."
• The Golden Warriors have made 11 straight trips to the playoffs, and have gone to the postseason 22 times in the last 30 years. They also have 14 seasons with 8 or more wins in that span, and have been to the quarterfinals five times.