There’s no letting up for the Charlotte High linebackers, even on scout team.
The group, led by seniors Malakai Menzer, Eric Hasier, Joshua Pitts-Torres and Keon Kitchner, has become the backbone of the Tarpon defense. Their contributions go well beyond the stat sheets.
“They’re tough, they make our O-line better,” Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said. “They go full speed until I have to tell them to slow it down a bit, which happens about three times a practice.
“They hit hard and are tough kids. We’ve kind of built our whole defense around those four.”
The linebackers have set the tone for a ferocious Tarpon defense through six games.
As a whole, the Tarpons have given up an average of 12 points per game with two shutouts and 15 forced turnovers.
“We’ve been playing smart this year,” Hasier said. “We’re a group of seniors, we’re smart and we take coaching very well. We all can call plays by ourselves. Not one of us is leading right now, it doesn’t matter who’s out there.”
It starts with the defensive front, with Xavier Finnerty and Hayden Roberson among others getting a strong push off the line. That has allowed those seniors to read and react to what the offense gives them.
“It’s hard to be a stud on this defense because all of us just work as a unit,” Kitchner said. “We’re all hard hitters. There’s not one of us that’s better than the other. We all work as a good team.”
It’s all about trust in each other.
Each one has a different task on a given play. Hasier often makes the pre-snap calls, Kitchner is more of the middle linebacker filling wholes, and Menzer is the pass rusher of the group. Pitts-Torres is versatile and can do a little of everything.
But they move as one fluid unit and what one player does affects the others. Despite only playing six games together, they have developed a strong rapport already.
“It’s the trust factor,” Menzer said. “I know I have someone behind my back that’s gonna do what they gotta do. As a striker, it’s not that hard. You close the end, close the tackle down. If he goes outside the box, I know I have to trust my linebacker to get outside and make the tackle.
“When it’s not happening we’re losing games, but if our minds are right and we’re seeing straight, we’re doing good as a group.”
They say they might not look the part, but that doesn’t affect their mindset.
Menzer is the biggest at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, but the rest are 200-pounds or under.
Even so, Hasier leads the team with 60 total tackles with Kitchner in second with 44. Menzer leads with seven tackles for loss and is tied with Pitts-Torres with three sacks.
“We are the hardest working linebacker group around here,” Hasier said. “We put in the extra work at practice. Even if we’re losing we’re going 100 percent. There is no one out here that we will not hit and put them on the ground and not care.”
This week, the defense will be tested more than they have all season when Palmetto enters the Fish Bowl.
The supremely athletic Tigers are the top team in Class 6A, according to Tuesday’s initial FHSAA RPI rankings. Palmetto comes in undefeated and has averaged 33.5 points per game with wins over Manatee, Braden River and Port Charlotte.
Even so, the Tarpons’ confidence is far from shaken.
“You better know you’re playing us,” Menzer said. “It’s all gas, no brakes. We’re just gonna do what we do and play football. We know what’s at stake.”