S.J. Football: The Year of the Linebacker

It's a big year for linebackers in South Jersey.

The position has lost a little bit of luster at the college and NFL level. Spread offenses, specialization and situational substitution have combined to make pass-rushing ends and tackles as well coverage guys a bit of a higher priority than linebackers.

But at the high school level, linebackers still rule.

That's the theme of the cover story for our Jersey Football Guide, which will be published Sept. 9.

South Jersey is loaded with top linebackers this season, led by Shawnee's Dillon Lucas, Holy Spirit's Anthony Sarao and Timber Creek's Quinton Alston.

There are lots of others, such as Willingboro's Brandon Bennett, Washington Township's Ryan Wills and Pennsauken's Byron Rozier, just to name a few.

Lucas made 172 tackles last season, and 124 as a sophomore. He's on the brink of shattering Justin Miller's program record for career tackles.

The 6-1, 218-pound Lucas has offers from Duke, Villanova and Buffalo, but has drawn strong interest from Penn State and Pitt. He'll probably wait until after the season to make a decision.

The 6-1, 215-pound Sarao has committed to Stanford. He also was recruited by the likes of Georgia, Nebraska and UCLA, among many other schools.

Holy Spirit coach Chalie Roman said Sarao's speed and power are a rare combination for a high school linebacker.

The 6-2, 220-pound Alston has committed to Pitt. He also was recruited by Rutgers and several other schools.

Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson raves about Alston's dedication to the sport.

"When he's not playing football, he's thinking football," Hinson said.

All three have something else in common: They are the leaders of defenses for teams ranked in the top six of the Inquirer's preseason Top 10. That's no coincidence.

It's the year of the linebacker, 2010. Check out a full story, plus a chart of every South Jersey product to play linebacker in the NFL, in the Inquirer's Jersey Football Guide, Sept. 9.

-- Phil Anastasia