Aug. 31—TOLONO — Spoken like a true middle linebacker, Brock Suding doesn't hesitate when asked about his favorite part of football.
"It feels amazing to hit somebody, and then you just get to look at them," the Unity senior linebacker said, the intensity in his voice building with every word. "I try to hit them as hard as I possibly can."
Unity coach Scott Hamilton is more than OK with this. Especially on a defense that only returns two starters last season and will have to contain a St. Joseph-Ogden offense that had its way with Monticello in a 40-14 win in Week 1. The longstanding rivalry between Unity (1-0) and SJ-O (1-0) continues on Friday with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Hicks Field between the two tradition-rich programs.
Suding knows what it feels like to play on a team that makes a deep playoff run since he started last season for the Rockets, making more than 100 tackles on the eventual Class 3A state semifinalist.
And the 6-foot, 195-pound Suding isn't shying away from even bigger goals this season.
"We're trying to win state," Suding said.
How far the Rockets ultimately go this season will depend heavily on what Suding and the Unity defense can accomplish.
"We lost so many guys from last season, so it was nice to have him back in that role," Hamilton said. "He understands how to lead. He tries to drag guys with him. He's a hard-working kid. He's got a high IQ. I think that's probably one of the biggest differences that I see from maybe when I started to now is there's just so many more kids that don't do a lot of things. They don't go out. They don't play. They don't have as many kids who have a high IQ in athletics in general, not just football. He's one of those kids that really seems to understand everything."
Veteran Unity defensive coordinator Dave Fink, in his 27th season working with Hamilton, said Suding "is as instinctive as a linebacker as we've had since Mitch Negangard was here."
Negangard, who graduated in 2013 and had a starring role on defense for the 2012 Unity team that finished second in state in Class 3A, is now an assistant coach with the Rockets and helps out the defense.
"He has a tremendous nose for the ball," Fink said of Suding, who made a team-high seven tackles and had a sack in Unity's 27-12 season-opening win against Prairie Central this past Friday night. "He's very physical, and he's really smart. It's pretty much the same responsibilities as last year. He was surrounded by some experienced kids last year, but as the middle linebacker, he has a lot of calls to make. He's definitely a leader in the way that he practices and the way that he prepares."
Suding is also a standout baseball player, helping lead the Rockets to a regional title in that sport last spring, the first for Unity baseball in 30 years. A catcher and pitcher for the Rockets on the baseball diamond, Suding said he can take some of what he does underneath the Friday night lights and have it translate to when he steps behind the plate in the spring.
"The mental part of the football side helps me," Suding said. "The physicality obviously helps, too."
Suding didn't start playing football until he was a freshman at Unity, with baseball taking up most of his early athletic endeavors.
"The one thing we do is we don't necessarily care what you look like in eighth grade," Hamilton said. "We want to get every kid we can out and then develop them. I don't remember if Brock was a physically imposing athlete then in junior high, but he's got the whole toolbox right now."
And the beginnings of a black mustache just above his lip he is trying out for now, too.
"I just decided one day it would be more intimidation," Suding said with a grin. "I get grief about it all the time."
It's hard to spot under his helmet, but just watch out for No. 45 when Unity's defense takes the field. Wherever the ball is, Suding has a tendency to find it.
"He's got a chance to be as good as any linebacker that we've had," Hamilton said. "He's got the size. He's got the speed. He's very instinctual. He's a good tackler. He's got all the things you want in a linebacker."