Photo: David McGregorBuford's Jaylen Mize
BUFORD -- During practice Tuesday, Jess Simpson grew slightly irritated with one of his two senior safeties, Jaylen Mize.
It wasn't for something Mize did, rather the Buford head coach corrected Mize for another's mistake.
"Coach Simpson got onto me for not telling a defensive end where to line up," Mize said. "I am 9 yards back, he's right there on the line, but it's just the fact that we emphasize how much knowing what to do is more important than being some super athlete."
That's how deep the expectations runs for Mize and his classmate and fellow safety Grant Hall. The two defenders, who also spotlight as wide receivers, don't just rank among the smartest on the team, they are two of the brightest students in Buford's senior class. Mize's class rank sits in the top 20 and Hall is set to be the school's valedictorian. Neither could be described as one of Buford's "super athletes," but both erase their limitations with knowledge.
"Our coaches preach knowledge equals speed and I am sure we'll both be the first to tell you that we are not the fastest guys on the defense, but I think that because we can read the linemen so fast we know where we need to be and how fast we need to be there," Mize said. "Knowing what to do is huge."
"The mental side of the game is just as big as the physical side of the game," Hall added. "We've had kids come in here that have been freak athletes, starters at other schools, and they don't grasp the mental side of it and they don't get on the field for a couple of years. The faster you can take on to the mental side of defense the faster you are going to be able to play."
They both watch endless film and constantly questions and conjure up different scenarios for adjustments. Mize's experience comes as the defense's lone returning starter and Hall learned during his career at Buford, spending time as a linebacker, corner and now safety. He didn't lead the defense onto the field last year, but he saw plenty of snaps.
"I have moved around a lot. With that, I have played each position," Hall said. "I know what's expected at each position. I have had to read the linemen before at linebacker, so I can bring that to the safety prospective. For a corner, I know what is demanded for that position."
The pair each have double-digit tackles on the season, but a high tackle count at safety indicates a mercurial defense, something Buford most certainly isn't. Perhaps because everyone lines up correctly.
"They are kids you can depend on in every way, shape and form over time," Simpson said. "Having safeties back there, your confidence factor in getting the defense and getting guys set up with those two cats. They are neat kids."
And their value doesn't just come in preparation. Both tend toward the liberal arts classes, preferring essays to proofs, analysis to theorems. They interpret and infer.
"There have been Friday nights where we go into a game thinking they are going to do this, that and this and halfway through the first quarter we are having to switch because they are doing something we didn't expect," Mize said. "Someone who doesn't have that quick, mental capacity can't switch. The way we study in school carries over to how we watch film and ask questions while watching film. It correlates."
Mize took time to describe some of the Wolves' in-game adjustments, a baffling series of changes only interpretable by one who speaks the foreign language of Buford football. They chuckle during these inside jokes.
Mize and Grant met in eighth grade and the two insist they have taken every math class together since. Of the seven classes they take now, they share five. Grant enrolled in Buford in eighth grade and Mize, whose mother graduated from Buford, has been a Wolf since kindergarten (He took a slight break before junior high school). They are both looking to play college football. They are mum on the schools, but admit academics will dovetail with football at the next level as it does as this one.
After all, it's another long football season in Buford. And these two are smart enough to know how special that is.
"It's been a blast," Grant said.