In high school football, the glory position on defense is most often the linebacker.
This is certainly not the case at Whitmer, where the defensive anchors for Panthers coach Joe Palka are the defensive ends.
Of course this is no secret locally, where opposing coaches begin and end their offensive game plans trying to figure out the best ways to avoid damage from 6-foot-6, 255-pound senior Kenny Hayes and 6-6, 260-pounder junior Chris Wormley.
This imposing pair lead the defense for Whitmer (3-1, 1-0 City League), which has a crucial league test at home tomorrow against St. John's Jesuit (4-0, 1-0).
Hayes, who verbally committed to Ohio State early last season, and Wormley, a major college recruiting target who has yet to commit, compose what is arguably the most formidable defensive-end tandems the area has ever produced.
“It's special because we're on the same team playing for Whitmer,” Hayes said. “It would be great if we both end up at Ohio State, and Chris and I are on each end. That would be a blessing.
“It would be nice and I would say there's a good chance,” Wormley said of joining Hayes as a Buckeye. “But I'm still looking at all my options and hopefully I'll figure out the right thing for me.”
Chris Wormley helps finish a tackle against Fremont Ross. Wormley has 12 tackles including two for losses, six sacks, and has knocked down four passes.
Wormley has received scholarship offers from Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Cincinnati.
Their presence at Whitmer is definitely the right thing for Palka.
“Anytime you have one guy like that, you have a chance to be really good on defense,” the Panther coach said, “and we're really blessed to have two of them. You don't have that issue of trying to put one guy to the wide side and hide somebody on the short side.
“We can go right and left, we can go wide and short side, and I think it shores up the opponent's passing game. It's tough to be a drop-back passer against us, and the other thing is that it secures that off-tackle area where a lot of high school teams like to run.”
Playing the same position, Hayes and Wormley admit to being competitive with one another, but each player says the bottom line is helping one another as well as their team improve.
“Last week [35-12 win at Rogers] Chris had three sacks and I didn't have any,” Hayes said. “He does a good job. We just push each other to get better and better each week.”
“We don't rub it in each other's faces, but it's kind of a thing to make each other better week by week,” Wormley said. “We're competitive in who gets there, but it doesn't matter who gets there first, even if it's a linebacker or our tackle, Andrew Maciolek. As long as somebody gets there.
“Kenny's a role model to me and he's like a big brother. I kind of do things my own way, but I take some advice from him. Like with the recruiting process. I take things step by step, and he helps me along the way.”
Kenny Hayes puts pressure on Fremont Ross quarterback Tyler Wolf. Hayes has 11 tackles with two for losses, one sack, and two pass knockdowns.
What puts Palka's pair among that elite defensive ends ranked in the country?
“Number one, they're physically tough kids, and they put guys on their heels,'' the fifth-year Panther coach said. “They have high motors and when they strike you, they really deliver a blow. They have a solid work ethic, they are humble, and both are great kids.”
“Mostly teams run up the middle and not to our outsides very much,” Wormley said. “Our coach tells us to look run first and then speed up when we see pass. Then we go all out and see if we can get to the quarterback.”
Last year the Panthers finished 9-2 and won their first City League title. Hayes and Wormley each received first-team All-City and all-district honors, and Hayes was selected district defensive player of the year as well as All-Ohio first team.
The threat of ends like Hayes and Wormley limits what an opposing offense can execute.
“It certainly has helped our secondary because teams are limited in the amount of routes that you can run against us,” Palka said. “We know the ball has to come out pretty quickly, or that somebody has to sprint out or go bootleg to get more time.
“That condenses the amount of time that everybody has. We've worked on covering the shorter routes and trying to break on the football more. That lets our linebackers really play forward and only be single-blocked, or not blocked at all.”
Whitmer's defense will likely face its biggest challenge of the season against St. John's.
“We know St. John's lineup pretty well and I really don't think there's a weakness anywhere across the board,” Palka said. “I've heard Doug [Titans coach Pearson] say, and with good reason, that this is probably the best team he's had in five to seven years.
“This is the closest thing to a state-caliber type of team that we're going to match up against. It's pretty imposing. St. John's has size and speed. We haven't seen that combination to date. The key is not to give up the home run. We have to make them have a 10-play drive to score. We can't give up home runs and expect to be successful against them.”
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461.
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