Nothing puts Mount Carmel's (Chicago, Ill.) Steve Filer more at ease than the relaxing sounds of classical music, particularly Mozart. It's been that way since fifth grade, when a teacher played it during a test.
It's a fitting music choice for Filer, an old-school senior linebacker who creates a symphony every time he steps on the gridiron. However, instead of melodious sounds, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder puts together a collection of bone-crushing hits that are anything but pleasing to his opponents' ears.
Filer's hard-nosed play also makes him a classic fit for linebacker, a position beloved in the Midwest and made famous by Chicago Bear greats Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher. While Filer has a long way to go before catching up to those legends, he has already etched his name among the greatest players to walk the halls of Mount Carmel. And that's no small feat in and of itself.
NFL Pro Bowlers Donovan McNabb and Simeon Rice are among the standouts who have donned the brown and white of Mount Carmel, which has won 10 state titles overall and nine under current head coach Frank Lenti. But for all those top players who've passed through the program, Filer is the only one to start at inside linebacker for three years. Of course, it's hard to keep a linebacker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, bench presses 325 pounds and has a 38-inch vertical jump off the field. Rated the state's No. 1 player and the nation's No. 30 recruit in the Class of 2008 by RISE, Filer has already committed to Notre Dame.
"As soon as Steve walked in the building, we knew he was special," says 24th-year defensive coordinator David Lenti, Frank's brother. "Steve has been blessed with some pretty special gifts. He has great size, speed and natural instincts. He's also very coachable. God blessed Steve with natural talent, and he's taken advantage of it."
Through talking with alumni like McNabb and Rice as well as Mount Carmel coaches, Filer understands the importance of the program's tradition.
"It's special putting on that jersey considering the players who've put it on and made a name for themselves in it," says Filer. "There are a lot of expectations that come from wearing that jersey, but I wouldn't want it any other way."
Playing for Mount Carmel has also instilled in Filer an unflinching work ethic. Despite his impressive physical skills and talent, Filer knows there's always a player working to take his spot if he loses focus.
That's not to say Filer hasn't always possessed a strong work ethic. For instance, during the summer heading into sixth grade, he worked out every other day by either running hills or doing countless push-ups and sit-ups. Now, you can add pushing cars to his training regimen.
Based on that routine, it's no wonder Filer is so strong and athletic. But when it comes to his understanding of the game, Filer points to hours spent game planning with former teammate Mark Oliver, a Chicago Tribune All-State selection at linebacker last season and now a freshman at Wyoming. Though Oliver was one of Illinois' top players as a senior last year, he always made sure to be prepared. That wasn't lost on Filer. So together, the linebackers would pore over game film and scouting reports for hours at a time, helping Filer learn certain nuances that have allowed him to excel.
"Mark taught me a lot," says Filer. "He showed me how to take on blockers, how to read the guards and tackles -- things like that."
The time spent with Oliver helped Filer put forth a monster junior season in which he garnered All-State second team honors from the Chicago Tribune. Filer finished the year with 84 tackles and nine sacks to lead Mount Carmel to a state runner-up finish for the second consecutive season.
Though the Caravan fell to Wheaton Warrenville South, 44-21, in the Class 8A championship, Filer still managed to stand out thanks to a team-high 10 tackles, including eight solo stops. His ability to put up big numbers in key games stems from the confidence he carries into each contest.
"I have a pretty big ego once I get onto the field," says Filer, who had 104 tackles and 10 sacks as a sophomore. "It's not that I'm cocky. I just tell myself that nobody on the field can match up with me, and that's how I play."
Once he steps off the field, that self-assurance turns into refreshing modesty. Filer understands his numbers wouldn't be possible without the big boys up front creating holes so he can level ball carriers with his textbook hits.
"Steve knows he's only as good as the people around him," says David Lenti. "It's great to see that, especially living in a 'me' society. He puts the team first, and that's why I think that makes him different."
Next year, Filer will take his talent to Notre Dame. He committed there over the likes of Ohio State and Michigan and is expected to play inside linebacker in the Fighting Irish's 3-4 scheme, meaning he'll have an enormous responsibility but also an opportunity to make a tremendous impact.
David Lenti thinks Filer's multifaceted attributes could even take him beyond Notre Dame. Keep in mind Lenti was the defensive coordinator when Rice helped lead the Caravan to a state title in 1991, so it's safe to say he's a good judge of talent.
"If Steve stays on the path he's on -- if he stays healthy and continues to work as hard as he can both physically and mentally -- he could possibly earn a living playing on Sundays," says Lenti.
No disrespect to Mozart, but that's truly music to Filer's ears.