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CLEARWATER — They chase quarterbacks and running backs, hoping to slam them into the ground, delivering blows with such force that perhaps the football, or even a helmet, might spurt free.
Those are the intentions of Clearwater Central Catholic’s linebacking trio of Kyle Brittain, Caanan Brown and Ethan Thompson. The juniors are at the center of a relentless Marauders (11-1) defense that has posted a school-record seven shutouts and helped the program advance to Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal against Fort Lauderdale University School (10-0).
“This is probably the best group of linebackers, as a whole, that I’ve ever had,” CCC coach John Davis said. “They’re not over-imposing. They’re just smart, instinctive players who we can move around and do a lot of things with.
“They’re not the fastest guys, but they get to the ball at full speed, and they don’t miss very many tackles.”
Thompson is the ferocious yet cerebral middle linebacker who leads the team in tackles with 139. Brown is the freelancing weakside linebacker who can line up at defensive end and has a team-leading nine sacks. Brittain is the pass-defending specialist at strongside linebacker who leads the group in passes broken up with seven.
“We all have different roles, but I think we play so well because we’re all good friends,” Brown said. “We do so much together, on and off the field.”
On the field, each flies to the ball with reckless abandon, trying to reach whomever has the ball at the same time.
“We all love making tackles, and we all have a pretty good idea of what our stats are,” Brown said.
Off the field, the competitiveness extends to video game tournaments.
“Those can get pretty intense,” Thompson said.
Last year, CCC’s defense showed signs it could become dominant, allowing a combined 19 points in its final four games, including two shutouts.
A big key was the play of the linebackers, who were all coming of age. This year, they have become even more of a force.
“I think the big key this year was adding Kyle,” Brown said. Brittain transferred from Osceola.
On Friday, they face their toughest task, trying to stop a nationally-ranked University team that is averaging 42 points per game.
“We can’t overthink anything,” Brittain said. “We just have to go out and play. They’re a little bit faster and stronger than us. But we’ve faced big, fast teams before. We’ll be ready.”
7:30 p.m. Friday
Admission is $8
8A: East Lake (11-1) at Orlando Dr. Phillips (12-0)
7A: Newsome (8-4) at Kissimmee Osceola (12-0)
6A: Armwood (9-3) at Gainesville (12-0)
5A: Pasco (12-0) at Robinson (11-1) (TV: BHSN)
Admission is $9
3A: Fort Lauderdale University School (10-0) at Clearwater Central Catholic (11-1)
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.