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HAMMOCK: McWilliams sparks Blue Devil defense

NORCROSS — Mill Creek ran the tunnel screen with success twice previously, each time a Hawk lineman getting a block on Norcross linebacker John McWilliams.

The senior wasn’t going to be fooled a third time. On this one, midway through the third quarter Friday night, he launched himself into Devonte Lewis, de-cleating the Mill Creek back and sending his gold helmet flying.

It was one of two big hits in the 34-19 win by McWilliams, an overlooked and undersized linebacker who is a key emotional leader for the 5-0 Blue Devils.

“(McWilliams) is an awesome kid, he’s worked as hard as anybody in our program,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “He’s a leader, a good student. He does things the right way. He’s a leader of our defense and a leader of our football team.”

In the eye test, McWilliams isn’t the guy who jumps out at spectators when the Norcross defense breaks the huddle. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder is tough to find amid the behemoths in Norcross’ front seven, guys like Ben Bradley (6-2, 284), Demetrius Alston (6-3, 225), Silverberry Mouhon (6-4, 225) and O’Shea Bridges (6-3, 225).

McWilliams is close to the same height as fellow linebacker Seth Hinsley, though Hinsley carries 30 more pounds.

But don’t let the size fool you. McWilliams, the son of a South African rugby player, packs a wallop on his hits. His eight tackles (six solos) led the Blue Devils in Friday’s victory, and the leadership he brings is just as important as any tackle he makes.

Each of his heavy hits energized the crowd and his teammates in a big way.

“I just tried to get jacked up (after the hits) and get everybody else jacked up, so they could make the play the next time,” McWilliams said.

While most of his work was done on defense, McWilliams also splits time at fullback with Hinsley. He got a nice reward to close the victory, scoring a key touchdown with 7:12 left in the fourth quarter.

Then it was back to defense, where he helped secure the win with his hustling play, darting in between a front seven full of Division I-A prospects. Sure, he’s the smallest of the guys, but he makes quite an impact.

“I take it as motivation if someone thinks they’re going to direct their offense toward the shorter guy,” McWilliams said. “I take it as a challenge and try to rise to the occasion.”

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Thursdays.