'All of us have a chip on our shoulders': Batavia linebackers making name for themselves

Batavia's linebackers have a chip on their shoulder. They don't dare you to knock it off. They just bring it.

Starting with its impressive youth program through high school with sophomore coach Mike Theriault, varsity defensive coordinator Matt Holm, varsity coach Dennis Piron and their cast of assistants, the Bulldogs are schooled in proper tackling technique to deliver maximum force.

"You use your shoulder pads to hit people, not your helmet or other parts of your body," said Southern Illinois-bound inside linebacker Ben Fiegel. "That's where you develop the most power, because you have your whole body coming up into it."

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior co-captain, whose 77 tackles rank second on Batavia to safety Chase Osborne's 85, is part of a solid four-man starting linebacker corps also offering senior co-captain Ben Brown and juniors R.J. Bohr and Jake Feller. Senior Kameron McLeod and junior Drew DiBiase rep in with the 3-4 defense.

"I tell them they're kind of a hybrid because they've got to be able to play in the box, real tough, physical, but they also have to be able to cover a guy downfield," said Holm, a 1987 Batavia graduate in his 33rd year coaching. He's contributed to state titles in 2013 and 2017 and runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2022.

In Batavia's Class 7A first-round opener Oct. 27 against Brother Rice, a 46-0 victory, the Bulldogs (9-1) allowed fewer first downs (5) than the visitors took penalties (7). The DuKane Conference champs allowed 102 yards, well under a goal of 200.

"We're all pretty equal, we're all well-rounded players, but Fiegel and R.J., the middle linebackers, are mainly the guys that like to kill people, I'd say. But we're all pretty good in coverage and all well-rounded players," said Feller, who has made 27 tackles, 6 for loss, with team highs of 3 sacks and 23 quarterback hurries.

Of course Feller doesn't mean "kill people." He means, pave 'em over. It's "nonnegotiable," in Holm's view on linebackers.

"For example," the coach said, "we never go around a block. We go through every block."

Such physicality requires sound, safe technique.

"It's big in your footwork, really, just to get your front foot down when we're delivering a blow," said Brown, who's made 47 tackles, 5 for loss, with 2 sacks and 3 passes defended.

"If your front foot's off the ground, (Holm) always teaches us you're going to get knocked on your butt if you don't have that proper technique. So hitting's huge for us because if you can blow up that lead blocker you can destroy a whole play," Brown said.

Holm, Fiegel and Bohr also noted the mentality required for the linebacker position. It extends into the weight room, film sessions, and a "laser-sharp focus" in practice, said Fiegel, who's never had a concussion.

"All of us have a chip on our shoulders," said Fiegel, who has caused 5 fumbles and intercepted 4 passes. "It's kind of a mentality we have, from guys before."

Like recent all-state Batavia linebackers Matt Weerts, Quinn Urwiler and Michael Jansey.

Bohr, who has made 49 tackles, provides a simple reason for running through people.

"It makes them not want to come out and play you anymore," he said.

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