James Easterly might not qualify as a larger-than-life figure yet. But, since he and Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall met two summers ago, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Easterly has occupied more than a hugechunk of ground on the line of scrimmage.
He owns places in DuVall's heart and the coach's personal football history book.
"He (Easterly) is one of the two or three best linemen ever to come out of the county," DuVall says. "He's a real sincere, honest kid,a decent person, a hard-worker. He's the consummate lineman, a natural offensive lineman. He's so big and so mobile. We've had some greatlinemen here over the years, but we've never had one big enough to play in the NFL. James could do it."
That is high praise from DuVall, who, besides running the county's most successful program over thepast 15 years, takes extra pride in the offensive linemen Wilde Lakehas produced over that span. DuVall, a former lineman, still works closely with the players in the trenches.
Each year the Wildecats produce at least one, often two, All-County offensive linemen. Combinethat with the talented running backs that have paraded through the program, and it helps to explain how they've won or shared eight county titles in the past 11 seasons, and why they played yesterday at Byrd Stadium against Smithsburg (past the Howard County Sun deadline) for their third state title in seven years.
Easterly fits snugly into the Wildecats' tradition. Then again, his size and background make him an unusual example.
Easterly is a 17-year-old senior whose bulky arms and broad shoulders -- and distinct lack of fat -- make him look like a college player. In football years, though, he is still a baby.
After transferring from Oxon Hill High School following his sophomore year, Easterly met DuVall, who persuaded him to play football, something Easterly had not done since he was 8. Back then, in Prince George's County, Easterly was forced to play with 12- and 13-year-olds since he was so much bigger than players his age.
DuVall willnever forget their first meeting. Easterly was already 6-3, 260 pounds. That was before last year's growth spurt.
"I saw him in the weight room over the summer," DuVall recalls. "I thought the coaches were pulling my chain. I thought they got this kid from college somewhere and sent him in. I said 'How old are you?' He said 15. I said 'Don't b.s. me.'
"I asked him, 'Would you like to go to college for free?' He was a lock. No question," DuVall adds. "I guaranteed him a Division I scholarship, almost to the school of his choice. I had two years to make him into a great lineman. It's like when you have an idea of what you want to carve, and somebody gives you the perfect pieceof wood."
DuVall's prophecy has proved accurate. Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and South Carolina have offered Easterly football scholarships as either an offensive or defensive lineman. A recruiter from Maryland watched Easterly block on film for five minutes and told DuVall the Terrapins wanted him. Pittsburgh, Boston College and North Carolina State are after him.
"Things are happening so fast," says Easterly. "I owe it all to Coach DuVall and my fellow linemen. I remember last year how strange it felt just bending over and putting my hand on the ground (in a three-point stance). I had to start from scratch.
"I think I've improved a lot. My pass blocking and downfield blocking are much better. Of course, I can get better. I feel I need a little more experience."
Easterly gained invaluable experience last year. Although he came to summer practice with no knowledge of blocking techniques, DuVall saw too many physical tools to justify benching him. He started every game at left offensive tackle during the Wildecats' first undefeated season, a year which ended with Raphael Wallscoring on a short run behind Easterly to win the state title.
"It feels good when you make a good block and knock somebody off their feet," says Easterly. "It feels good inside to know you caused a touchdown. We (linemen) don't get any credit, but we know we made it happen."
Easterly has made it happen often this year on the offensive and defensive lines as a full-time, two-way starter. Through weight training he has increased his strength -- he now bench-presses 350 pounds compared to 225 a year ago -- and agility to uncommon proportionsfor someone his age and size. With a victory yesterday, his high school record would be a perfect 26-0 with two state championships. DuVall says Easterly has been instrumental in both years.
"He can block one man and go to the next man. He can block people into other areas. He can hit people on the run," DuVall says. "A lot of that is strength, but it's also technique.
"James is so coachable. And he's not done growing yet. By the time he's 22, he's going to be a man, I guarantee you. He's going to play in the NFL someday."