SEFFNER - Armwood senior defensive back Glenn Lassiter, one of the smaller guys (5 feet 9, 150 pounds) on a team of giants, has a motivating message inspired by opponents. It's scribbled on the bottom of his cleats.
"You're too small?" his shoes ask, the words lying alongside the names of his mother and father.
"Everybody tries to pick on me," Lassiter said.
Bad idea. Lassiter, perhaps Armwood's most explosive and emotional player, leads it with 134 tackles, 59 solo.
Linebackers Dougie Thompson and James Jolly are the unknowns among a defense filled with Division I prospects. Barely bumped up from junior varsity and playing in the shadow of an enormous line, opponents often overlook the sophomore and junior.
Not smart. Thompson is the second-leading tackler with 131 while Jolly follows with 130.
There's nothing flashy or loud about Lassiter, Thompson and Jolly, but Armwood coach Sean Callahan sees something he adores in all three, something that epitomizes what he has preached since his first season in 1990.
"They're typical Armwood guys," Callahan said. "Glenn is what, 140 pounds? And he's our leading tackler. He just bought into our program, and he also wrestles. I'm a firm believer in my players playing other sports.
"And James and Dougie were on JV last year and have progressed nicely. None are All-Americans, and I'm not sure if any of them are planning to play in college. But they are all passionate about the way they lift and the way they run."
It's a refreshing shift of perspective for a team generally known for two gifts: size and talent. But consider the Hawks' five shutouts and another handful of lopsided scores among their 13 victories, including 46-9 against Countryside on Friday.
"If they don't score, we can't lose," Jolly said. "We can play all night."
The Hawks face their biggest challenge tonight in a Class 4A state semifinal at Miami Washington. The Tornadoes (10-2) have faced several 6A teams in football-rich Miami and seen plenty of talent, including 1,000-yard rushers and big offensive lines.
Callahan is hoping the workhorse ethic adopted by his defense, especially his top three tacklers, gives the Hawks the edge they need.