Saturday, March 24, 2018

Armwood’s best D-line? 2017 squad makes its case

SEFFNER — They arrive in opposing backfields from all directions. Malcolm Lamar fights off double teams before charging up the middle. Fitzroy Gardner and Dyllun Timmons race past linemen so quickly that it seems unfair.

The Armwood High trio take turns pummeling running backs beneath a wall of pads. They also push, pull and throw quarterbacks to the ground.

For the Hawks, this group is not just the first line of defense.

It is the main one, too.

"It starts directly up front," Armwood defensive coordinator Kyle Worden said. "It starts and ends with the defensive line. How they play dictates how the rest of the game is going to go.

"I’ve been doing this 10 years now and this is hands down, bar none the best defensive line I’ve ever been around as a whole group and individually with the skill set each one of them has, it’s far and away the best."

That is high praise for a school that prides itself on ferocious defensive play and has had several big-time linemen, including former five-star recruit Byron Cowart.

The proof is in the numbers.

The Hawks have 44 sacks this season, the fourth-highest total in school history. That number could grow considering Armwood is undefeated and can play as many as five games if it reaches the Class 6A state championship.

Just as impressive are the 54 points the Hawks have allowed this season, an average of fewer than a touchdown per game. That total has come against a difficult schedule that includes five playoff teams and six with winning records.

As the game wears on, opposing offenses wear out. Armwood has allowed just one touchdown after the first quarter all season and that came two weeks ago against Hillsborough when the backups were playing.

"There’s not a team in the area that can beat us running the football," Worden said. "And once you get in a passing situation and this group can pin their ears back and go, it gives hell for people on Friday nights."

Lamar is the catalyst. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior often lines up in spots where opposing teams prefer to run so they are heading in his direction. The Oregon commit faces a mountain of interference on every play with linemen, tight ends, even running backs trying to push him out of the way.

"I just try to do my job and be in the right place and fly around," said Lamar, who has 44 tackles and five sacks. "It’s tough taking on a lot of double teams, but I don’t want to be selfish. I want to let the other guys have some fun, too."

No one is having more fun than Gardner.

Last year, Gardner attended Lennard High and watched the Armwood defensive line wreak havoc.

"I was impressed with the way they played," Gardner said. "I was happy, too, because I knew that’s where I was going. I just knew I had to come to Armwood and play."

Because Lamar demands so much attention, Gardner is often left with one-on-one matches with linemen.

It usually is no match.

Gardner leads the team in sacks with 13.

"Malcolm makes my job a whole lot easier, and I thank him for that," Gardner said.

Timmons has five sacks despite missing four games with a knee injury.

"We can see fear in linemen, especially when we get hyped and start talking," Timmons said. "They get frustrated."

And it doesn’t end there. The line has depth. Allah Whittaker has three sacks. Desmond Watson has two.

Sacks, though, are not the end goal for this unit.

"There were no numbers we really had in mind that we wanted to put up this season," Lamar said. "We just wanted to play together — and win."

So far, so good.

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