When the linebackers at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle take the field each week this fall, they won't merely be attempting to dominate their opponent. They'll also 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."
The friendly competition serves to bring out the best in each of the Division I prospects who comprise arguably the nation's most talented 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 1, when the three of us are in the game, we'll know all eyes are on us."
That kind of attention is inevitable for the most touted players on 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. Notable alumni include Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams and former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer.
At linebacker in particular, recent notable players include Barton, four-star recruit Terrance Kelly (who signed with Oregon in 2004) and three-star prospects Brady Amack (Air Force in 2008) and Blake Renaud (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 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. With so much star power up front, this defense should build on the momentum established last season.
"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.
• Height/Weight: 6-foot-3/217 • Rating: Three stars (No. 39 outside linebacker in 2013 class) • College: Undecided • Skinny: Egu's offer list includes Arizona, Arizona State, Army, Boise State, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Oregon, San Jose State, Washington and Washington State. Egu told HuskerOnline.com that Nebraska is recruiting him to play tight end.
• Height/Weight: 6-2/210 • Rating: Four stars (No. 8 outside linebacker, No. 51 overall in 2013 class)• College: Undecided • Skinny: Hutchings has the type of national offer list that befits his ranking. Hutchings often has been linked to USC, though he also visited Washington last weekend. Other schools to offer include Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Oregon.
• Height/Weight: 6-2/205• Rating: Three stars • College: Undecided • Skinny: Moffitt has received offers from Arizona, Colorado, Houston, UNLV and Washington State.
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