DECATUR — There couldn't have been a more unceremonious start to Seth Reynolds' high school career.
As an eighth grader, LSA's now-senior broke his back, causing him to miss his entire freshman season.
He used that time to get quicker, more flexible and use his top-of-the-class wits to improve his game.
When he came back as a sophomore, he combined with fellow sophomore Chandler Carter to form a dynamic linebacker duo.
“Missing a year gave me a lot of motivation so I put that in the weight room,” Reynolds said. “I came out my sophomore year and had a pretty good year.”
Entering their first game Friday against Cumberland, the two have made a name for themselves in the Little Okaw Valley Conference, and around the area, as perhaps the top of the class.
Reynolds is the all-time leading tackler at LSA and Carter isn't far behind in the No. 2 spot. It isn't a competition between the two, but if they match last season's output, they'll be putting quite a bit of distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.
Carter led the team with 90 tackles last season and Reynolds had 80 of his own. They were part of a defense that allowed 14 points per game last season, and coach Craig Bundy estimated the starting unit allowed fewer points than that, perhaps in the seven or eight per game range.
And his linebackers were right in the heart of the action.
“They're just outstanding,” Bundy said. “I've coached at almost every level, up to (Class) 7A, and I don't know if I've ever had a tandem as good as these two. Either one of those kids could play at any school in the area.”
They'll both enter their senior seasons looking to improve on LSA's 8-2 campaign last year that saw them get booted by Bridgeport Red Hill in the first round of the Class 1A postseason.
The scary part is, the two, and the entire defense, may be better this season.
This season, the Lions are ramping up their attempt to force turnovers. The prospect of having the green light to strip the ball is welcomed by Reynolds and Carter.
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“It's exciting,” Carter said, “being able to get the ball back so we can score again.”
An emphasis on defense comes with experience. Bundy knows his team has the ability to hold teams to single digits — they did three times last season. Now the Lions are looking for big plays.
Reynolds and Carter are joined by three-year starter, junior Braden Havener. The trio brings back a combined 212 tackles from last season and a combined 10 years of varsity experience.
“Now that our kids are more experienced and we've grown up, we're going to emphasize more turnovers this year,” Bundy said. “Last year, we were good defensively and we didn't give up a lot of points. That was our main thing is how many points we allowed. I think this year we can expand upon it because we do have experience. Everybody talks turnovers, but if your kids aren't experienced enough and know how to be in the right position to create turnovers, it just doesn't work out.”
Reynolds and Chandler are the perfect complement to one another. The former uses his speed to stop outside runs before they start. Chandler barrels through gaps in the offensive line to halt running backs from going up the middle.
The linebackers hang their hat on being one of the best groups in the area at any position, but they aren't willing to say they're the sole proprietors of a strong run defense.
“We take a lot of pride in our running game,” Reynolds said. “We don't credit ourselves fully for it. The lineman do a big job of feeding us.”
While they're excited about what's to come in their senior season, Reynolds and Carter know their time at LSA is drawing near an end. Carter intends to play baseball in college while Reynolds plans to continue his football career — he's interested in Harvard or Dartmouth of the Ivy League, or the University of Chicago.
They're passing on their knowledge of the position to younger players, including Havener.
“They taught me to read the guards, the guards are key,” Havener said. “And just to be quick with my decision.”
Bundy calls Carter and Reynolds “tackling machines” and the power is ready to go back on for their final stint in red and white.
Now, Bundy wants to see if his inclination is correct about the star duo's ability to force turnovers.
“Stripping the ball and having a knack for it is kind of an innate ability,” Bundy said. “(Former Chicago Bears cornerback, Charles) Peanut Tillman is the absolute poster child for that. He had an uncanny ability to knock the ball out, probably more than any defensive back that's ever played. I think Seth and Chandler will be able to do that, but we'll see.”