April 24, 2011

Old Mill's Feared LB Trio Breaks it Down

MILLERSVILLE -- The Ravens had Lewis, Boulware and Sharper; the Packers had Nitschke, Forrester and Currie; the Bears had Singletary, Marshall and Wilson; and the Steelers had Lambert, Ham and Toews.

Now, the Old Mill Patriots have Kess, Brownlee and Holbrook.

OK, so that might be just a little too much hype, but there might not be a better collection of linebackers in Maryland's public schools then the trio down at Old Mill. Rising seniors Rafael Kess, Seth Holbrook and Terrence Brownlee form a corps that has the Millersville faithful seeing shutouts and sacks in 2011.


Kess(6-foot, 215 pounds), the middle linebacker, is the unquestioned leader of the group, a savvy, hard-hitting three-year varsity veteran. Kess already has a scholarship offer and is coming off a nine-sack season.

Fellow inside linebacker Brownlee (6-1, 210), whose nickname is Liddy, is an athletic specimen with the speed to cover, the strength to dig down in the trenches and the footwork to move sideline-to-sideline. Brownlee filled up the stat book last year with over 60 tackles, 5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three recoveries and two touchdowns.

Holbrook (6-0, 220), meanwhile, is an intimidating man-eater who boasts Popeye-like arms and a rock-solid core. He's a defensive-end/outside linebacker hybrid with a relentless motor, uncommon strength and a killer bull-rush.

MdHigh publisher Dave Lomonico recently made the trek down to Millersville to visit Old Mill's vaunted trio. Below is the full transcript of the interview.


How did you guys end up at Old Mill? Take me through your careers and what kind of numbers you put up.

Kess: I've been here all four years. I played jayvee my freshman year, and sophomore year I came up to varsity. I pretty much started over a senior that year and we won [the state championship]. Then last year I started the whole time at middle linebacker. I had 60 tackles, nine sacks, a few forced fumbles and a blocked punt.

Brownlee: I started on the jayvee at Annapolis and was brought up to varsity at the end of my freshman year. Then I started at outside linebacker my sophomore year. But after that I transferred from Annapolis.

I came up here to Old Mill because Annapolis just wasn't getting the job done. I didn't think there was much discipline with the players or the coaches; it was unorganized. So I transferred up here feeling I would be in a better program. And it is. I started last year at inside linebacker and nose guard and I had over 60 tackles, 5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three recoveries and two touchdowns.

Holbrook: I've always lived in the Old Mill district. I went to private school in middle school, but I decided to come to Old Mill. I played my first year on jayvee, but then they moved me up my sophomore year. I started at defensive end and we won states that year. Then last year I started at defensive end/outside linebacker and played fullback as well. I had about four sacks, around 60 tackles and I scored a touchdown at fullback.


What does each of you bring to the table on the field? I want each of you to comment on what your two teammates do well.

Brownlee: I feel as if Rafael is really quick off the ball. He's also strong, he can hit, he closes in fast and he reads offenses well. Then Seth has a lot of strength, and he has a fast first step. He can get to the quarterback.

Kess: Liddy (Terrence) is smart when he gets on the field. He makes good decisions and makes good reads. He fills his gaps very well, he keys on running backs very well and he picks up the flow of the game very well, too. And he closes just as well as I do. I feel we really make a good duo at inside linebacker - we make a lot of gang tackles together.

Then Seth is just so big and fast he's unstoppable. I mean, no body can jam him up. He gets free really easily, pushes you out of the way and after that it's over.

Holbrook: I'm going to talk about both Rafael and Liddy together. They compliment each other. I'm at defensive end a lot and I'm on the offensive line a lot too, so I get to see how well both of those guys play. They jam it up a lot inside and make it very difficult for running backs. They make them bounce it outside and get out of their lanes. They're real strong, real quick and they react really well.


OK, let's talk about what you guys like to do individually out there on the field. What kind of moves or techniques do you use to get to the quarterback or track down a running back?

Holbrook: I like to use the swim move, but then I can do a little something where if the tackle gets his hand on the ground, I come off real quick, slap them out of the way and then just blast right around them. They can't touch me.

Kess: We run a 3-4 defense, but we blitz the middle a lot. A lot of times I'll use a bull-rush or a swim move to get through. I can take a guard, jam him under his pads and then just blow by him. But a lot of times the guards are pretty slow in reacting, and I can get to the holes pretty fast. Before they even get out of their stances I'm in the gap.

Brownlee: I like to bull-rush a lot, but if I know a guard is big and strong, I'll use a rip move and try to beat him with speed. I try to get him off balance and use his size and weight against him.


How do you guys compliment each other on the field?

Brownlee: We all have leadership qualities. We all talk to each other out there constantly. For instance, with Seth, when he's down at d-end and I'm behind him, I can see things he can't see. So I'll let him know little cues and things like that. Then, with Raffy, I'm always talking with him about which way the play is moving and whatnot.

Basically, when we're on the field, we all come together and unite. It's a lot of chatter out there. And, most of the time, the result is six hats around the ball carrier.

Kess: I'm usually the guy making a lot of calls. I'm either telling Liddy to key the running back or letting the other guys know which way the running back or linemen is going.

Before games, when me and Liddy watch film, we watch the running backs closely. By game day we can tell exactly which way he is going to go and how the play will develop. So that helps us react even faster when we get out there. We know exactly how each other will react.

Holbrook: I'm going to say something a little different. I feel as though we were like the team leaders last year, even though we were just juniors. Us three all had varsity experience and knew how to get it done. I know Liddy was still at Annapolis as a sophomore, but me and Rafael were here winning a state championship. So last year we kind of helped the young guys out because we knew what varsity was all about and we already knew how to win. I think that was our biggest contribution.


What was your overall most dominant defensive performance last year, when everything was just clicking?

Kess: Well, Glen Burnie was just a beatdown; that was easy (laughs). But something a little more challenging had to be Broadneck in the last week of the regular season. We clicked really well, we made lots of tackles in the backfield, everybody was vocal and we all made the right decisions. We ended up getting a big win.

Brownlee: To me, I know we're going to have a great game [as a defense] when we're all hyped and ready to go. For example, in the Annapolis game we came out just pumped up and ready to hit. It was just like that [snaps fingers] - they'd run a play and it was over before it started. There were no missed assignments, no letdowns - everything was perfect. Everybody just did their job and good things happened.

Holbrook: If I had to pick one game, it had to be either South River or Annapolis. That's when it all clicked for us. Everyone was just flowing to ball, putting a hat on a man and just making plays.


How about individual efforts? What was your best individual play last play?

Kess: In the playoff game against Broadneck, their one receiver, Trae Byes, got the ball on a reverse. As soon as he looked up to [get upfield] I was right in his face. I just stone-cold dropped him. Then I stood over him and just stared right in his face. That sparked it up a little bit (laughs).

Brownlee: I blocked a field goal against Meade; that's what stands out in my mind. This one guy tried to block me, but I used a swim move and got by him. Then I dove for the ball, got two hands on it and sent it right back [at the kicker].

Holbrook: Well, I had a touchdown and a bunch of sacks against Annapolis. I think I had like all my sacks for the season in that game. I know I had at least three; their line couldn't stop me. On one play the quarterback tried to scramble and I just ran him down and sacked him.


You know how every defense, regardless of how many great players they have, all seem to have a leader? Like with the Ravens it's Ray Lewis, with the Bears it was Mike Singletary, and so on? Who's the leader of the Old Mill defense?

Holbrook: It's most definitely Rafael. It's not even a question. Two years ago, when we won states, I feel like there wasn't just one guy who stood out and was the leader. Everyone just had that single, focused mind-set. But on this team, I think the guys do look up to Raffy. He makes it work.

Brownlee: I agree with that. Raffy is the one who makes it run. He's smart, he's vocal and he knows where everyone is supposed to be.


OK, so Rafael is the leader. But who's the most athletic of you three?

Kess: Probably Liddy. His footwork is amazing. I mean, he moves really fast, he can jump out of the gym and he just has so much raw talent. He's just got it.

Holbrook: I really don't know, but I guess I'll say Liddy. He's a freak out there.


How about the strongest?

Holbrook: Oh man, I don't know. All three of us do everything together [in the weight room]. We all work hard and are in that weight room constantly.

Brownlee: Yeah, I don't know. I'd probably have to say Raffy. He's probably pound-for-pound the strongest.


OK, who's the smartest in terms of football IQ?

Kess: Oh, come on, stop with these questions (laughs)

Holbrook: Yeah, these are hard (laughs).

Brownlee: I don't know, but I'd have to say Raffy again. I mean, I guess it has to be him. He's the middle linebacker. He has to analyze everything, see everything, make sure everyone is in the right place. I mean, I help a little bit with that, but it's his job. And he gets it done.


All right, last tough question. Who has the most overall talent?

Holbrook: I'm not going there (laughs).

Brownlee: Yeah, not answering that. Next question (laughs).

Kess: We all have our different qualities. We complete each other, honestly. We work together so well, and we just compliment each other and get the job done.


OK, I'll ease off the tough questions. Do you guys feel like you're the best linebacker corps in Maryland?

Brownlee: Yes sir.

Holbrook: Without a doubt.

Kess: Man, I thought we were the best last year, for real. I don't care what no body says.


Oh, I don't know. I think those boys over at Broadneck [Domenick Johnson, Nick Ochoa, Va'a Niumatalolo, Brooks Wiggans, Ryan Stump] were pretty good…

Kess: Man, don't talk about no Broadneck boys (laughs).

Brownlee: Yeah, I feel like we were better then them. They just had more hype around them because they were the seniors and they had been there for so long. But we were right there. And now they're gone and we're still here. We're ready to step up.

Holbrook: Yeah, we got a full head of steam now. We ready.


But they got you guys in the playoffs last year. Their defense kicked your guys' butts (laughs).

Kess: I don't think about that second game no more. That's the past. It's out of my mind. When did that happen again (laughs)?

Brownlee: Alright, I'll say it - it was our secondary's fault (laughs). We're a team, but, come on, they were not on top of their games that day. But now we're ready. We're working as one and that [Broadneck letdown] isn't happening again.

Holbrook: Yeah, we honestly feel we're the best group in the state.


OK, what makes you guys the best? I mean, do you think you're better then anything DeMatha, Good Counsel or Gilman could bring?

Holbrook: We played DeMatha's guys in a 7-on-7. They were OK. But they didn't work as hard as us. I mean, we literally never stop working.

Kess: Look, we work out eight times a week, for real. We're here before school, after school, weekends. We do weights, we do field work, we do footwork drills, we run hills - everything.

Brownlee: Ain't no body in Anne Arundel County or Maryland that's working as hard as we do. I guarantee you that. Why do you think we're in the playoffs every year and won states two years ago? You can't count us out.


How do you guys prepare to break down an offense, especially a complicated offense like Arundel that can put up 50 points a week?

Holbrook: Oh, that's tough. For Arundel, we watch film everyday that week trying to cue in on them. And I guess that goes for every game. We have this thing on the Internet called "Hudl" where you can upload videos. So I watch that everyday at home.

Then, in practice, we run that scout team over and over again, and it pays off. When it's game time, we know exactly what's happening. It may not always look like it on the scoreboard, but it's not because our defense is lost out there [against Arundel].

Kess: In general, me and Liddy will focus on the linemen and see which one moves the slowest and which one doesn't use 100-percent effort. Then we'll start cuing in each other and the D-line on what we see. We'll be like, 'Brush him hard' or 'Take him off the edge.' We'll pick out their weaknesses and adjust our game plan to take advantage.

Brownlee: Besides film and reading what's going on in the game, I think the key to our preparation is our attitudes. We're ready to play every time we go out on the field. It's a killer instinct, like linebackers are supposed to have. We know we're good, and we know we can beat you.


I know that you guys have a renowned defense with good defensive coaches. But it seems like you three are more then just 'system' linebackers - like you can play anywhere with your athleticism, speed, etc.

Brownlee: Yeah, that's completely accurate. We can play anywhere. We can play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive end, nose guard, fullback, receiver, tight end - anywhere. We can do it all.

Kess: And I know we all can cover. We're fast enough to drop back and cover a tight end or receiver.


Back to your defensive system for a second. I know that your coach, Damian Ferragamo, is stepping down. How will that affect the defense?

Kess: The defensive coaching staff is still the same. Our new coach, Coach [Chad] McCormick, said nothing is changing on defense. He told us as long as we work together it's all going to run through us like last year. We're going to do it big next year.


How does this linebacker corps -- and this defense in general -- compare to the defense that took you guys to a state title two years ago? That group of linebackers with Josh Furman, Jason Clements, Randy Spann and Justin Mullins was pretty good…

Holbrook: Not to take anything away from them, but I truly believe we can be better then they were.

Kess: I think we're actually more athletic then them. When we won the state championship, I rotated in with Justin Mullins. He was OK, but he wasn't fast and he made decisions slowly. I think we're smarter and more athletic then they were.

Brownlee: I don't know. I was at Annapolis at the time, but playing against them, it was a tough group. I actually think our [Annapolis] defense played pretty well that game. We held Furman to like 37 rushing yards and only lost by two.

Kess: Hey, that was in the past (laughs). We don't talk about that.

Brownlee: (laughs) Yeah, but they were a good defense, a good team. They were fast, but I think this group [at Old Mill now] is just as fast, if not faster.


Alright, what do you guys have to do to get even better, to improve your games?

Kess: I need to work on my feet. I can move well laterally and get through holes, but I want to be more fundamentally sound. Then I'll be able to hit the holes even harder, make tackles even faster and cover even better. They won't be able to stop me.

Brownlee: Personally, I need to work on staying low and being even quicker. Then, when I go to tackle, I need to keep my feet moving at all times and not stop short.

Holbrook: Footwork is a must, but the most important thing for me is conditioning. Sometimes when you play both sides of the ball you just get tired. So I want to be able to go hard every down, every play.


Let's talk about college. Do you all feel like you can play high level college football?

Holbrook: Most definitely We all have the work ethic in us, and we all have the talent. We just have to show it all out there on the field.

Kess: Oh yes, we have that potential. Honestly, we believe we're just as talented as a guy like Josh Furman [who went to Michigan]. He was gifted; he was tall, fast and could do everything. But the way we're built right now - our height, weight, speed and body type - fits right in with what the recruiters are looking for. We're ideal for our positions.

Brownlee: I feel as if we can all play college ball on at least the I-AA level. I went up to Princeton to see their practice and I was watching their linebackers. I felt like we could play at their level -- or even above it -- right now. They couldn't do anything we're not capable of doing. We're just as big, and we're probably a little faster. We just need an opportunity.

Holbrook: Yeah, I believe we can do whatever we want in college, for real. We're relentless. We have that undying drive and work ethic. [Recruiters] like that.


Just a couple of random get-to-know you questions here. What do you guys do for fun? Do you hang out together?

Kess: I mean, me and Liddy hang out together a lot. Seth sometimes hangs with us, but not usually.

Holbrook: Yeah, I'm usually not with those two a whole lot. Sometimes, but not all the time. For me, it's a lot of working out, a lot of hours in the gym.

Brownlee: We party a lot. Then we go to basketball games at the school a lot. If we're not there, then we're just hanging out, chilling,

Kess: X-Box is a must.

Brownlee: Yeah, nothing reckless (laughs).


How would you guys describe yourselves in one word?

Holbrook: Determined.

Kess: Ambitious.

Brownlee: Loyal.


Good deal. Are you guys pleased with what you're accomplished so far in your careers?

Kess: No sir. I'm not pleased at all. I won't be satisfied until I have a second state championship.

Holbrook: If you get satisfied, the improvement stops. We still have a lot to get done.

Brownlee: I'm not happy at all. I'm working hard trying to get that ring and that scholarship offer. Then, when I get that, I'm going 10 times harder to get even more. I ain't lettin' no body work harder then me.


One last question. What do you guys thing you're capable of next year? Do you have an ultimate goal?

Holbrook: States. No question. We are states bound.

Kess: Oh, without a doubt. Old Mill - state champions 2012.

Brownlee: Yeah, print up the T-shirts. Old Mill: State Champs.



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