Everybody's had a hard time tackling Nick Williams this season.
The good news for Emmitt Hicks? That's not necessarily his job.
Recently moved from defensive end to tackle, the Amboy senior got some great advice from Garrett Liebing, alongside whom he'll line up when his Clippers entertain Erie-Prophetstown (4-1, 3-0 Three Rivers North) Friday night.
"Just stay low, and your job isn't to make tackles, but to make piles," Hicks said.
Williams leads the area's rushers in every category except remorse. A steam engine chugging downhill, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound fullback has piled up 1,073 yards on 109 carries, his 9.9 yards-per-carry clip helping him score 17 – that's a 1 and a 7 – touchdowns through five games.
Liebing checks in at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, Hicks at 6-2, 230. But plugging the middle only begins to solve the problem that is the Panthers. Quarterback Ethan Howard (61 carries, 547 yards, three TDs) leads a versatile supporting cast to Williams' star.
Fleet-footed backs Chris Bauer and Jordan Chandler demand that linebackers and ends be honest while defending the Panthers' signature veer option.
"Our job on those is to stay on the backside and keep any counters from coming back," Hicks said. "The ends and linebackers need to get to the quarterback."
"We have to be very disciplined on defense," Amboy coach Gary "Tank" Jones said. "That's how they get ya, when you get two guys going at the quarterback or at the running back."
A rash of injuries led to Jones shifting Hicks to tackle. The Clippers (2-3, 2-0) have won two in a row after dropping their first three, a turnaround Jones credits players developing a sense of ownership at their positions.
Jason Bontz (93 rushes, 621 yards, 6 TDs), most notably, had taken the role of premier running back and run with it. And fullback Chris Jones – no relation – is playing bigger than his 5-6, 165-pound frame.
"He's not a very big kid, but he's stepped up for us," Jones said. "In the past, he wasn't getting those carries. Repetition is huge."
Panthers coach Chuck Milem admits his offense has been more dynamic than he expected this season. But after returning almost its entire defensive line, the defense has underwhelmed its head coach.
"We actually can be a lot better than we've been," Milem said Tuesday. "But we had a really good practice today. The guys are being physical with each other and competing in practice. We competed from the scout team to the starters. You've gotta give that look that Amboy's going to throw at you – being physical and getting in your face."
One sophomore who's still learning how to unleash the inner beast is Dylan Binion, who filled in at linebacker as a freshman on last year's playoff squad when the injury bug bit.
"It was nerve-racking," Binion said of his first varsity game. "It was important having good leaders to help get me through it. They just told me to do my job."
This week, that means focusing on the Clippers' iso looks and, when they give to Bontz on a power play, taking away any cutback lanes.
"If the play goes away, I've got to have the cutback," Binion said. "I've just got to read the guard and see what they're doing."
Jones says he's had no issues getting his guys fired up for a matchup of conference unbeatens.
"I told the kids, 'We're both undefeated. We've got the best back in the area coming here,'" he said. "Good teams like a challenge and step up. How good are we?"
He'll have a much better idea after Friday night.
For the Panthers, what better place to become playoff eligible than a tough place to win like The Harbor?
"I definitely think all the kids know it's a big game for us, especially against a team that has such a deep, rich history," Milem said.