There’s no secret Dean Smith looks to his linebackers to be leaders of his entire team, and in the past, he’s been blessed to have players fulfill that role.

In 2018, Smith will call upon Demarquez Hardwell to be his “Mike” linebacker and provide the physical nature that embodies Wossman football, and Smith will even ask Hardwell to be a ball carrier in certain situations.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because Charles “Hammer” Ellis perfected that role under Smith just two years ago.

“Hammer is my inspiration,” Hardwell said. “He was a good one. I’m trying to be like him. He could even play a little quarterback too.”

Without its Hammer, Wossman took a big step backwards in 2017. Wossman lost most of its starters from a team that won 15 combined games in 2016 and 2015, and the 2017 squad struggled to a two-win season a year ago. The players and coaches around Wossman High School haven’t forgotten what it felt like to suffer eight regular season defeats either. And that’s why players like Hardwell are vital moving forward.

“Last year, we almost got into a situation where we faked working harder,” Wossman head coach Dean Smith said. “The guys that put the work in to win those back-to-back district championships, they thought it was going to happen last year on the sideline. (Hardwell) was in that junior class that was actually working hard. He’s a part of that crew that’s going to break the mold.”

There’s no faking Hardwell’s work ethic. Whether it’s running gassers or putting time in the weight room, Hardwell wants to make the transition from “will” backer to “mike” and have a similar impact to Wossman linebackers of the past. To do so, he’s had to improve his coverage skills, and that’s where all of the footwork drills come in. They’re admittedly not fun for the senior linebacker but they’re necessary for Hardwell to take the next step in his development.

“I have the physical aspect down,” Hardwell said. “I don’t pout or anything. I’m straightforward. I’m tough. I’m a good tackler. But I have to get better at dropping in Cover 2 or Cover 3.”

Smith knows toughness is needed to win a District 2-3A that loves to run the football. From teams like Richwood to Sterlington, teams that run the power-I are plentiful in one of the most crowded districts in 3A.

But having a linebacker who leans into contact rather than avoiding the big hit gives Wossman a fighting chance to change the district narrative in 2018.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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