Prep football: GW linebackers sustain success
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When George Washington opened its fall football camp, Coach Steve Edwards Jr. knew his team had plenty of things to work on in its quest to return to the Class AAA state championship game.
The linebacker position wasn't one of them.
The trio of Charlotte recruit Dustin Crouser, senior Trevon Johnson and junior Zach Malone, figured to be among the state's best.
And for much of the season the trio was before the injury bug bit the Patriots in mid-October game at Capital.
The Patriots lost that game and Crouser for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Crouser's sudden departure was a kick in gut for the Patriots, but they rebounded nicely by winning their next three games in moving to 9-2 and into a quarterfinal playoff matchup against Lewis County (9-2) Friday evening at Steve Edwards, Sr. Field.
"It was a big hit to our whole team," Edwards said of Crouser's injury. "When you lose a Division I football player and the best defensive player in West Virginia, it's certainly a big loss.
"But it has helped us give some other kids a look and it's also given some guys a chance to step up and answer the call. We've been very fortunate that for at least a couple of weeks, we've had that happen for us."
Senior offensive tackle Jacob Whitlock has answered the call in Crouser's absence, having taken over the third spot in the corps.
Whitlock, who had never started defensively before, has racked up 22 solo tackles, 20 assists and 21/2 tackles for loss for the Patriots.
"He's a done a great job," Edwards said. "I'll tell you what, he's been bailing us out since our first game. He's played multiple positions for us.
"I mean he's gone everywhere and he's a starting offensive tackle. He does a really nice job."
For Whitlock, the opportunity for more playing time as a senior has been a welcomed challenge.
"It's really exciting and different and new," Whitlock said. "I love the challenge and I've been just trying to take it head on and just get myself wholly into it.
"I've been doing whatever they want me to do. I love the game and I love playing, so anytime I can get out there and help my team win it's a good thing."
Whitlock's transition to the linebacker position has been aided by the stellar play of Johnson and Malone.
Malone leads the Patriots with 56 solos, 84 assists and 51/2 tackles for loss, while Johnson is second on the team with 28 solos, 74 assists and 7 tackles for loss.
"They're very smart players and they're good athletes," Edwards said of Malone and Johnson.
"Sometimes when our other guys are doing really well, they get overshadowed because Dustin (Crouser) does so well. Now people are taking notice of what good football players they are.
"I thought before the season that linebacker would be our strongest point. I said that at the beginning and thankfully it has been."
Johnson and Malone not only picked up some of the slack, they've also become more vocal leaders on the Patriots' stingy defensive unit.
"I told them they had to take on a bigger role and they have," Edwards said. "Their numbers speak for themselves and they've had to be leaders for us. They've got more responsibility assigned to them now.
"They're having to make the call and make sure that everybody is lined up in the right spot. We just took it for granted that Dustin was going to take care of those things for us."
It's a role that both players have embraced.
"Losing Crouser was definitely a big loss for us," Johnson said. "He is a great player and I miss him, but both Zack and I know we have to pick things up and just play our games like we know how to."
"We have a great team and we're really good defensively," Malone said. "We've all had to step things up and come out playing that much harder in every game. Me and Trevon have a lot of responsibility now because we're the leaders out there.
"But we'll be OK. We have a strong mindset. We're tough and we're a good team, so I think we'll be fine."