Prep football: Neville a tackling machine for Judge's defense
With clenched fists, Pat Neville threw back his head after an echoing tackle and let out a rebel yell, his long blond hair peeking out from beneath his crimson helmet.
It's a common war cry from the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Judge Memorial linebacker, who leads Class 3A with more than 120 tackles this season.
According to Judge Coach James Cordova, Neville is a defensive warrior. The turf is his battlefield, the Bulldogs his army.
"He is our defense," Cordova said. "He makes all of the adjustments on the field. He makes all the calls. He runs my defense."
But Neville defers much of the credit, as any true leader would.
"I don't know about" being the leader, he said. "There are always 11 other guys out there on the field with me. There are a lot more leaders on the field than get recognition."
It's true that Neville is just one of many players who make the Judge Memorial defense one of the most formidable in Class 3A.
Sosefo Falemaka is the anchor of a staunch defensive line, while senior captain and linebacker Tyler Wilkerson is the hardest worker on the team. The two have contributed more than 100 tackles to Neville's cause. A string of sophomores are waiting in the ranks.
But if the Bulldogs are a battalion, Neville is the chief.
It's an earned distinction.
When a team runs a no-huddle offense, Neville is trusted to check his defense on a dime. He's the play-caller on the field. When he's not squashing a run, he's batting down passes. He's known to grab his teammates by the shoulder pads in admonishment at one moment and pat them on the back the next.
"He sets the defense and sets the tone of the defense, the emotion of it," Cordova said.
It's a brand of leadership that doesn't end when he walks off the field.
Neville has logged countless hours reviewing plays and watching game film to prepare himself, and his team, for the next big game.
Each day, he sits side-by-side with Cordova to discuss defensive schemes so he already has the answer when the time comes to call a big play.
"He puts a lot of trust in me," Neville said. "We make sure I have it down pat, so I'm able to make the same call as the coach would."
"He's a field rat. He's just voracious about the way he does football," Cordova said. "He's constantly asking questions and looking at different plays. The amount of attention he puts into every detail of game makes everybody much more at ease."
No doubt, they can count on him to make big stops. Of his 120-plus takedowns this season, more than 80 are solo tackles.
"That's a beast in the middle," Cordova said.
Yet somehow his defensive prowess so far has been overlooked by collegiate coaches.
"There are some excellent linebackers in the state, and Neville is as good as any of them," Cordova said.
Neville's father was a fullback for Yale, and Neville hopes to keep the tradition going, maybe by playing for an Ivy League school himself.
But he keeps that hope in perspective for now.
"I'd love to play in college, but I'll ultimately choose my school based on academics," he said. "I've always wanted to be the best and strived to be the best, but it's day-by-day progress."
For now, his focus is on the progress of his team, which hopes to break through to reach the 3A state title game for the first time since it fell to Logan in 2007.
If anything could get them there, it's the Bulldogs' defense.
"Having someone out there like Neville gives them all direction and purpose," Cordova said.
• Senior linebacker Pat Neville leads Class 3A with more than 120 tackles this season, including more than 80 solo tackles.
• Judge coach James Cordova allows Neville to call the plays on the field. To earn the privilege, Neville has logged countless hours side-by-side with his coach reviewing game film and the playbook.