Derby senior Dillon Call isn't a new name on the football scene. The linebacker brought attention to himself as a sophomore with his big hits and speed as he pursued opponents.
He's a two-time All-Metro selection and was named to The Eagle's All-Class 6A team in 2010.
But Derby coach Brandon Clark said Call is having his best season yet.
"He's always been physical and had the mindset of a linebacker," Clark said."... He worked on his hips. He's more flexible. His change of direction is better. He's able to get in and out of cuts. He'll read his key, and if the ball goes somewhere else, he can change directions."
Call, who Clark says is one of the toughest players he's coached, has played a key role in Derby's success. Derby (7-3) plays host to Manhattan (10-0) at 7 tonight in the second round of the 6A playoffs.
Call wants to make the play. He roams the field, ready to lay out a ballcarrier or run over a blocker.
"When the running back is trying to get away from me, I'm right there, and it gets inside their head and it shuts them down," Call said.
He wants to make the hit. He wants the shutout. He wants to dominate. But he knows he can't do it himself.
"You can't have a team with just one person being great and mighty," he said. "Everyone has to do the right thing and what they're supposed to do. That's what makes great teams and shows great players."
Such a team focus is one of the reasons the Panthers have relied on the defense so heavily.
"The defense is the heart and soul of our team," Clark said. "We're keeping points off the board. Our defense is undersized... but they fly to the ball. There's not just one guy going to the ball, it's six, seven, eight."
Call (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) is one of those undersized players. But he's a leader.
"On defense, we have Dillon and Myles Stroud; they are the leaders coaches dream of," Clark said. "They're both vocal leaders. We have a lot of kids that lead by example. That's easy as a high school student.
"To be a vocal leader and tell your teammates something... first you have to hold yourself accountable if you're going to tell someone else to do it the right way."
Call appears to have the entire package to be a major-college player.
"I feel like I would be" a Division I player, Call said. "You say that, and people say, 'You're cocky.' But I feel like I really could."
He's gotten interest from college coaches, but no offers.
Not a single Bowl Subdivision or Championship Subdivision offer has come his way.
The reason is simple — he's not big enough.
"At the college level, I think size is the No. 1 determining factor, as long as a kid is a great athlete," said Clark, who played at Kansas State. "Those linebackers are going against 6-6, 300-pound linemen. Size does help a little bit.
"Size is a big thing; even kids that are sometimes less talented than smaller kids, (college coaches) feel they can use them as a project and turn them into a good player."
Call understands this thinking — and doesn't let it affect him.
"Some people are blessed with (size)," Call said. "Yeah, it's frustrating, but I'm happy to be who I am, and I wouldn't choose to be anyone else."
Next year, well, is next year. Whatever happens, happens.
He's played the game for seven years and wants to play in college, but if he doesn't, he plans to study to become a chemical engineer or lawyer.
Call's focus right now is on beating Manhattan and continuing his final season.