|Wildcat seniors Zach Attaway and Brian Nix top two tacklers in season opener|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Aug. 30, 2005 - One has closely-cropped hair and sideburns. The other prefers long hair and a tattoo. One was a regular at the SSHS fieldhouse all summer, while the other worked out on his own.
Despite the differences in style, Wildcat coaches are receiving similar amounts of substance from their inside starting linebackers, seniors Brian Nix and Zach Attaway.
They were the top two tacklers in the season opener against Jacksonville. Attaway recorded 11 tackles, five for losses, and a sack, while Nix had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Though the Wildcat defense gave up four touchdowns, they were hamstrung by bad field position and having to stay on the field almost the entire third quarter because of turnovers.
"Our defense played well enough to win," said SSHS head coach Brad Turner, "and both of those guys played pretty good the other night."
They came to their starting positions through different means. Attaway (5-11, 205) started seven games last year on the defensive line as coaches tried to get him on the field in tandem with starting linebackers David Barnes and Keidric Duffey. This year, he was moved back to linebacker, his natural position.
Nix, on the other hand, excelled at special teams last season and put in the time and effort over the last nine months to get faster and stronger so that he is now 5-11, 190 and runs a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash.
"I got to a starting position because of how hard I worked during the spring and the offseason, so I feel like I proved myself to be a starter this year," Nix said. "I feel like I can be a leader on the defense. My main focus in the offseason was to be a starter.
"What I like most about football is the team aspect of it, and you have to go work hard at it every day. Some things you can go work hard every once in a while and still be good at it, but in football you have to come out ready to work every day and get better every day."
Turner said it was Nix's attitude and work ethic that helped him become a better player.
"The thing that made Brian so good is that he had such a good offseason. He increased his speed, and he's very strong," he explained. "He's got the tools to be the kind of player who can make tackles from sideline to sideline. The only thing he needs is experience because he hasn't played that position on varsity very much."
Coaches feel that Attaway, on the other hand, has all the instincts necessary for the position. He has played linebacker since the seventh-grade and has a knack for shedding blockers and getting to the ball carrier, as evidenced by his five tackles for losses on Friday.
"It feels good to be back at linebacker," he said. "Getting to the ball is what I think I do best. I try to be in the pile, in on every tackle. I'm more of a run-stopper and Nix is better at pass coverage.
"Coaches say I have a nose for the ball, so that's probably what I do best."
Against Jacksonville, Turner said Attaway was sick, but didn't let it affect his play.
"He was throwing up the whole game, and it never slowed him down," Turner said. "I've said all along that Zach has a nose for the football. No matter where he's played - inside, outside, D-line - he has a knack for getting to the ball.He's what you want at inside linebacker, because he should be involved in almost all of the plays, and he does that."
Back-up linebacker Josh Duke, who transferred from Pittsburg last season, also got some playing time and recorded a pair of tackles. The other back-up, Carlos Hernandez, should be ready to play when district rolls around.
"All four of them run to the ball, are tough and get after it," Turner said.
Though the linebacking unit played well on Friday, Nix said he takes it personally when the Cats give up a score.
"Even if the touchdown was on the other side of the field, I feel like I should have been there to make a tackle,' he said. "I feel like I should be on the ball every single play."