Gar-Field High School linebackers Nick Nicholson, Robert Harding and Frank Brinson have impressed football coaches from Louisiana to North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Defensive coordinators in those states clearly can envision what it would be like to have a member of that distinguished trio racking up tackles for their team.
There is good reason for such visions, and it has nothing to do with vivid imaginations. Nicholson (Louisiana), Harding (North Carolina) and Brinson (Pennsylvania) moved from other states to Virginia, where they have formed one of the most respected linebacking corps in the Washington area.
Their backgrounds beg the question: Where would the Indians be without them? But right now, the only concern is where the Indians are with them: No. 16 Gar-Field (8-2) plays at No. 2 Hylton (10-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Northwestern Region Division 6 semifinals in a rematch of 1998 region finalists.
Nicholson, Harding and Brinson, who have totaled 332 tackles this fall, are a hodgepodge combination. The well-established Harding, a senior, has been at the school since his freshman year. Nicholson, another senior, moved in last year, and he had all but given up on football until co-workers persuaded him to stick with it. Brinson, a peppy sophomore, played safety in Pennsylvania, briefly bounced to Florida and then moved to Prince William late last year.
All three linebackers have found a home on a team that has allowed 109 points this season, just seven more than Cardinal District leader Hylton.
"We've been really fortunate that these kids came in and could play positions we needed to fill," said Gar-Field Coach Tony Labozzetta, whose program also has benefited from Alabama transplants Larry and Jamar Atkinson, who have rushed for almost 1,900 yards combined this season.
Nicholson, Harding and Brinson rely on their speed about as much as the running backs do, and that is what has made them so effective.
"We're not the biggest people, but I believe we're the fastest linebacker corps in the district," said the 6-foot, 200-pound Harding, who from his middle linebacker, or "Mike," position, has 137 tackles.
Nicholson almost sidestepped football. After moving away from his Louisiana chums in the summer of 1998, he had no intention of playing football at his new school. But at the urging of some players who worked with him at a go-kart track, Nicholson dropped by a workout just to check things out.
Nicholson soon realized how much he missed football and since has flourished at the strong side, or "Sam," linebacking spot. The first Indian to truly befriend the bashful Nicholson? Harding.
"We had that linebacker relationship," said the 5-7, 190-pound Nicholson, who this season has 124 tackles, including 11 for losses, along with two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Nicholson, in turn, became the Indians' ambassador to Brinson when the 5-10, 170-pounder began working out in the weight room last offseason. Brinson, the weak side, or "Will," linebacker, this season has 71 tackles, including six for losses, and five sacks.
Fittingly for the much-traveled Brinson, his first game for Gar-Field was on the road. At George Washington-Danville, the linebacking trio spearheaded a defense that shut down a team that would go on to qualify for the playoffs.
"That set the tone of our season right there," Brinson said of the 9-7 victory. "If we would have lost that game, I know that a lot of people's heads would have been down. Coach said if we go down and win at Danville, that we'd have a good season ahead of us."
And Gar-Field hopes Brinson has a couple of good seasons ahead of him. Without Nicholson and Harding, the Indians will look to Brinson next year to continue the tradition of their position. Maybe with other players who just arrived from out of state.
But for now, there is only one transfer the Indians are interested in--the transfer of the Northwestern Region title from Hylton to Gar-Field. The linebackers certainly have an admirer in Bulldogs Coach Bill Brown.
"They like to run to the ball and hit," said Brown, whose team was shut out by Gar-Field for more than three quarters during their regular season meeting last month. "That's what you look for in linebackers. They're the prototypes."
CAPTION: From different states, Robert Harding, left, Nick Nicholson, Frank Brinson together form one of Washington area's best group of linebackers.