When Levi Wallace puts his hand in the dirt and lifts his head to get set before the football is snapped, he knows what the guy across the line from him is thinking.
At 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, Wallace does not cast an imposing figure for an offensive tackle, so he realizes defenders expect to have an easy night's work. He wants them to think that way.
But once the ball is snapped, the Lookout Valley senior and three-year starter in the trenches begins earning respect.
"He certainly doesn't look like your typical right tackle," Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb said. "But he's very tough and smart and plays with incredible technique. In our offense, the tackle position is pretty vital and we need guys who are athletic and quick enough to get out and block fast defensive ends and tough enough to stand in there and move people around.
"He's never complained about it. He just goes out and does his job, and even though he isn't the biggest guy on the field, he's about as tough as they come and he's a big reason for our offense to be successful."
The Yellow Jackets have scored 24-plus points in all but two games this season and two backs have 500-plus rushing yards, led by senior Jamal Jones' 1,343. Wallace also is the team's leading tackler from his middle linebacker position, again overcoming his lack of size with tenacity.
"It's definitely a challenge," Wallace said. "I've tried to listen to the coaches about my pad level and just do the little things I can to get any kind of advantage, because I'm not going to just overpower people. I've played on the line my whole career, so I'm used to being one of the smallest and knowing the big guys are probably taking me lightly.
"For us seniors, we have to play like every game could be our last, because we know it could."
Lookout Valley plays Friday at Copper Basin in a Class 1A first-round playoff game -- a rematch from two weeks ago when each team rolled up more than 350 yards of offense before the Cougars pulled away late for the win.
Wallace and his younger brother Hurley, a sophomore guard, are part of one of the area's most undersized offensive lines, with only 6-4, 260-pound right guard Caleb Parham weighing more than 190. But those linemen know they don't have to stay on the blocks long with speedy backs such as Jones and Toney Summerow.
Jones (5-11, 185) has rushed for more than 3,500 career yards and will be counted on heavily for the team to advance.
"Jamal is about as good a back as we've had here, just a complete runner who has speed and is physical," Webb said. "He just needs a little opening to make a big play happen for us.
"At our level, we don't have to have massive linemen -- just tough kids who don't mind working hard -- and that's the example Levi sets for others to follow."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...