West Deptford linebackers up for Cedar Creek challenge

They are the same weight.

"To the pound. 199," Mike Oldt said.

They are the same height.

"Pretty even," Kyle Garrison said.

They are seniors for the West Deptford football team. They are inside linebackers. They are fanatics about weight training, the first ones in the room at the start of a scheduled session and the last ones to leave.

"The two hardest-working kids on the team," junior quarterback Peter Orio said of Oldt and Garrison.

Plus, there's that look: the long hair straggling out of the back of their helmets, the beards busting out of their chin straps.

They might be Vikings, and not the ones who wear purple in Minnesota, either. The ones who accompanied Leif Erikson on his adventures.

"Gio abandoned us," Garrison said, referring to the Eagles' star fullback, Gio Gismondi, and his tightly shorn locks. "Me and Mike are the only ones left. We said we're not cutting our hair or shaving our beards until we win the championship."

Garrison, Oldt, and the rest of the Eagles will get their chance Sunday in the South Jersey Group 2 championship game against Cedar Creek at Rowan.

It's a special game for the West Deptford seniors, a rematch of last year's 28-27 loss and the last chance to capture the program's first sectional title since 2012, when they were in eighth grade.

"We've waited all year for this game," Oldt said.

Sunday's game likely will present a special challenge for Garrison and Oldt and the rest of the Eagles defense.

West Deptford's run defense has been rock-solid this season. With Garrison and Oldt leading the way, the Eagles have specialized in closing down opposing ground games.

Garrison leads the team with 104 tackles. Oldt is next with 92, and also is tops on the squad with nine sacks.

But Cedar Creek is expected to test the Eagles' defense with crossing patterns and swing passes, forcing Garrison and Oldt and others to make plays.

"They're great against the run," West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom said of Garrison and Oldt. "They've really improved against the pass. That's the challenge."

Garrison and Oldt each made a big play for West Deptford in a 55-27 victory over rival Paulsboro on the night after Thanksgiving.

Oldt's thunderous hit forced a fumble that turned the tide late in the third quarter. And Garrison's tackle on fourth and 1 at the 3-yard line early in the fourth quarter took the steam out of the Red Raiders' last comeback.

"They're so dependable," Folsom said of his inside linebackers. "Work ethic, second to none. They always want to train. If they're not working out here, they're at RiverWinds" workout facility.

Or at each other's house, since they have weight-training facilities there as well.

"We get some garage jams in," Oldt said.

Garrison and Oldt have been side-by-side at inside linebacker since ninth grade, when freshman coach Don Clark flipped a coin and moved Gismondi to cornerback.

"I didn't play until eighth grade," Garrison said. "I was a defensive back and wide receiver. Mike has taught me how to be a middle linebacker. He gave me tricks and tips."

Now Garrison has LBU - For "Linebacker U," the Eagles' homage to their perennial strength at that position - embossed on the back of his cleats.

"That's our M.O. - play hard, play smart," Oldt said. "We take a lot of pride in the legacy of linebackers that came before us."

They will take the field for the last time together on Sunday, all those practices and games and weight-room sessions at school and elsewhere boiled down to 48 minutes for the South Jersey Group 2 championship.

They plan to leave it all on the field.

And, if all goes according to plan, to leave all that hair on the barbershop floor.

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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