SEFFNER — It begins a few hours before kickoff.
Armwood's defense, a snarling group even on the sunniest of days, starts the process of preparing for battle. Their eyes get a more focused look, the volume on their iPods is turned up a notch and the pregame feast is served. So what do these young men consume before consuming their opponent?
Raw meat? Gunpowder?
"Ha, it's funny you ask that," defensive coordinator Matt Thompson said. "Angelo (Hadley) eats raw honey, and Petey Smith eats mustard … by the packet. He's gotta have it man."
While sweet and sour sounds tasty to some, the Hawks' defense has left foul tastes in the mouths of opposing offenses all season. Next up, tonight at 7:30 — Plant High in the 4A region final.
"We'll be ready," Hadley said. "We feel fortunate to be playing Plant, and we're ready to show everybody what we can do."
The stats accumulated by Hadley, Smith and the rest of this group are staggering. The defense has allowed just 76 points in 12 games, including 25 through the first eight. They've shut out four teams, stringing together three straight during one stretch. Last Friday against Tampa Bay Tech, seniors Smith and Hadley broke school career records for tackles (446) and interceptions (19), respectively. Defensive end Ryne Giddins broke the career sack record earlier in the season.
"I want to say this is the best (defense) we've ever had," said Thompson, who has been at Armwood for 14 years. "But we have to get a state ring first."
But accolades and athleticism aside, the glue that holds this unit together is simple: They are downright nasty on the field.
"We want people to know we're here to hit," Thompson said. "And make people feel it."
And Armwood struts that aggressiveness around like a peacock with its tail feathers up. They're intimidating, loud and a little on the scary side if you've got a football in your hands.
"We set the tone with our attitude," Smith said.
How much confidence do the Hawks have in this unit? Smith, the speaking captain, has called all 12 pregame coin flips right this year. And each time Armwood has elected to defer and play defense first.
"Our motto," Smith said "is throw the first punch."
And Armwood punishes teams in ways that don't always show up in the stats.
The Hawks gave up a season-high 20 points last Friday, but TBT paid the price as the game wore on. In the first quarter, defensive end Giddins blasted Tech quarterback Angel Rodriguez a hair late and was called for roughing the passer. But Smith noticed a change in the Titans' quarterback after that play.
"He started pitching the ball early on the option," he said. "You could tell he was looking for Ryne."
Then, with TBT trailing by just nine in the beginning of the fourth quarter, Smith delivered a highlight-reel hit on a receiver near the Armwood sideline, drawing a chorus of 'oohs' from the stands. After a second, the game receiver got up and wobbled a little toward the wrong sideline. Armwood then scored 21 straight points to close out the game.
"What a punishing hit," Thompson said.
Good teams like TBT don't come into games against Armwood intimidated, but hits like Giddins' and Smith's make it difficult to retain that swagger for 48 minutes.
"Most teams come out fired up and with that emotion, so you can't tell right away (if they're intimidated)," Smith said. "Until you get a few good licks in."