Potomac Falls's Ike Hamilton is eager to get more tackles than his teammate and fellow inside linebacker, Jason Lutman. Therefore, Lutman knows he needs to be quick to do his job--"Otherwise," he said, "Ike will get there first."

This competitiveness has helped establish the duo as leaders of a Panthers defense that has three shutouts in four games this season. Lutman (6-foot-1, 225-pound junior) has recorded 17 solo tackles, 16 first hits, 19 assists, one sack and one fumble recovery, while Hamilton (6-2, 210-pound senior) has 17 solo tackles, 14 first hits, eight assists, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

"They work well together," Potomac Falls Coach Wes Driskill said. "Both have great range and having [defensive tackles] Mark Panchura and Andy Groelinger in front of them allows them to get to where they need to be."

This is the first season Lutman and Hamilton have played alongside one another. Lutman played at Jefferson County (W. Va.) High School as a freshman but transferred to Potomac Falls--where his father, Charlie, is the athletic director--as a sophomore. Last season, he led the Panthers with 23 solo tackles, 35 first hits and four caused fumbles and was named second team all-Concorde District.

Hamilton was on the Potomac Falls varsity as a sophomore--during the school's first season--but did not play last year while recovering from knee surgery. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing pickup basketball and had reconstructive surgery in March 1998.

But it hasn't taken long for Lutman and Hamilton to become a team. The key is "cooperation," Hamilton said. "I can focus on my side of the ball because I know that Jason is going to take care of his side."

It also helps that the Panthers' defensive tackles, Panchura and Groelinger, are playing well. "They keep the linemen from coming out and releasing on us, so we can worry about just making tackles." Lutman said. "They protect us, in a sense."

There's no protecting Lutman and Hamilton from each other. In practice, during linebacker drills, they often match up against each other.

"I'd rather not go against Jason," Hamilton said. "Whenever I do, I end up getting a headache or something."