Mike Haddad can talk about the swell of tension in his gut leading up to kickoff — the way the stadium lights feel on his skin, the high of performing before an electric crowd of fans.
But for Haddad, Avon Lake’s senior fullback and middle linebacker, football has always been — and always will be — the meditative craft of preparation.
“It’s what I love most,” he said. “I love the lifting and the film watching. I can just sit down for hours and hours and watch. I love seeing what linemen’s tendencies are — learning what they’re going to do, how they line up in certain formation. You get to watch them play before you play them. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”
There are no gray areas with film. The images don’t lie. The secrets are there for anyone willing to take the pains to discover them. And for Haddad, it’s the most useful tool for maximizing his skills.
Haddad is best known as the top offensive weapon of the Avon Lake Shoremen. His thoughtful, soft-spoken demeanor is offset by the contradiction of his running style: direct and devoid of nuance, treating defenders the way a bowling ball treats pins. The points come when you knock them down.
“I like the contact that comes with running with the football,” said Haddad, an undersized fullback at 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds. “I like hitting people. That’s what the game is all about.”
Through the first eight weeks of the regular season, Haddad and his teammates have run through and past just about every obstacle that’s stood in their way. The Shoremen bring a perfect 8-0 record into tonight’s matchup at Westlake. Avon Lake is ranked second in the state poll in Division II, behind Columbus DeSales, and third in the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer rankings behind Sylvania Southview and Piqua.
Haddad has formed a dynamic tandem with senior tailback Jeff Tell, bringing brute power and raw speed to the Shoremen’s running game. Combined, the two have carried the ball 246 times for 1,927 yards and 25 touchdowns. Haddad alone has accounted for 1,120 of those yards and 20 of those scores.
Opponents have quickly learned that whichever way the ball goes — whether it’s Haddad bulldozing defenders or Tell eluding them — it’s hard to slow down Avon Lake’s ground game.
“In previous years, we had a tailback that could get 25 carries a game,” said Avon Lake coach Dave Dlugosz. “Now we’re splitting those carries up. They’re each getting around 15 a game. What that’s done though is open it up for both people.”
Tell, in particular, has been on fire. Before missing last week’s game due to a contusion in his left leg, the senior tailback had rushed for 329 combined yards against North Olmsted and Midpark, respectively.
Both are capable of carrying the load, if required. But, Tell said, what makes the tandem so unique is each is willing to sacrifice for the team’s benefit. He described in comical detail watching whole portions of the field open up running behind Haddad, who is one of the team’s best run blockers.
“One of the best things is being able to run while he’s lead blocking,” said Tell. “He just bowls people over. He’ll take out two or three defenders on one play.”
Haddad’s best known for his play on offense, but he’s had an equally profound effect as one of the team’s two middle linebackers. Avon Lake runs a 5-2 defense, which puts an emphasis on linebackers being able to overcome any gaps that may appear in the line and funnel the ball back toward the middle of the field, where Haddad and senior Dave Henderson are there for the tackle.
“Mike is not the classic type of linebacker who’s 6-2 and 230 pounds,” said Dlugosz. “Both of our middle linebackers are short, stubby kinds of guys. But they’re both very quick and exceptionally good tacklers. You can’t play a 52-front and not have some guys with a nose for the football.”
Haddad is able to cover a great deal of ground as a linebacker with his speed and has a natural sense of where the ball is going. But his natural skills are enhanced by his love of film study.
Last week, Avon Lake limited Berea to 66 yards in the first three quarters of play before the second unit finished out the game. Haddad over the previous week had trained his eye to notice little wrinkles in Berea’s offense.
“They ran a fullback dive option a lot and you could see when the fullback was going to get it by the way he would line up,” said Haddad. “If he was more upright and looking toward the quarterback, he was going to get it. If he was down, you knew he was going to block someone.”
Avon Lake’s defenders were ready for that play, and the Shoremen beat the Braves 56-7.
This week, he turned his attention to unlocking Westlake’s secrets, working the remote, delighting in the deep and abiding fascination in the detail of the game he loves.
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.