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Cameron Smith

Unlikely undersized defensive line has team on verge of state title

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

When classmates run into Mountain Crest (Utah) High's Jordan Haun in the hallway, they're not exactly bowled over. After all, at just 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds on a very good day, Haun isn't the most intimidating high school senior around. He is an extremely effective high school football player, however, despite playing one of the least likely positions for a man his size: defensive tackle.

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As chronicled in the Deseret News, Haun is the smallest on a peculiarly undersized defensive line for Mountain Crest, which will play for the Utah Class 4A state title on Friday. The tackle is joined by one the nation's most undersized nose tackles -- 5-foot-10, 180-pound Nate Rigby -- with the two players' combined weights coming close to what would be a normal weight for a starting tackle in the NCAA or NFL. Still, the senior pair's speed, strength and agility give opposing offensive lines fits, making Mountain Crest's defensive front a surprising team strength.

Not surprisingly, Haun has a distinct attitude about being undersized champions toiling on the front line.

"I love it," Haun told the Deseret News. "I love getting out on the field and seeing the guy across from me look me up and down and think, 'I am going to tear this guy up,' and then going out and beating them. I love to get past a guy and get in the backfield and disrupt things."

"I just try to use my quickness," Rigby told the Deseret News. "I think it is much better to be quick on the line than big. I can run around a guy before he can get his hands on me."

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In Haun's case, the transition to defensive tackle was one of necessity, not invention. Mountain Crest has a gaping hole on the defensive line, and Haun was recovering from a rough ankle injury. With his ankle struggling to become fully healthy, the only way the senior could get on the field early in the season was at a position where he could still use his mobility in a slightly more limited way.

"When I got healthy, really the only way I could get on the field and help my team was to play tackle," Haun said. "It took a little bit to get used to, but now, I wouldn't have it any other way."

Yet the switch to the line clicked, and when paired with Rigby -- who is pictured above in his other role as Mountain Crest's starting running back -- the duo have found ways to get fierce pressure on the opposition. While plenty of opposing coaches have been shocked by their success, Mountain Crest head coach Mark Wootton said the success of his defensive line was purely down to the players' mentalities and attitude.

"[Haun] is a tough player to block," Wootton told the Deseret News. "You look at him and think, 'There is no way, he is going to get killed out there.' But he not only holds his own, he can be pretty dominant at times.

"I always say that there are players that have all the physical attributes to be football players like speed or size or strength, but the one thing you can't really measure is how hard someone will play. I think that for all the time I have been here, the South Enders [residents of Cache Valley where Mountain Crest is located] just have a different mentality. They are going to work harder, dig deeper and just get the job done despite their size. You can't measure that."

It's also impossible to measure perseverance, which Haun insists he and his teammates have in abundance now that they're just one step away from a state title. If Highland (Utah) High does knock off Mountain Crest to take the Class 4A title, they'll have to wear themselves out against an undersized defensive line that isn't likely to quit.

"I don't care if I get knocked down a couple of times, I am going to keep on coming at them," said Haun. "I am going to keep fighting and try to keep their linemen off of my linebackers behind me so they can make plays. I love playing football and will do whatever it takes to help my team win."

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