Hylton senior Chris Ross considered himself a linebacker. He had played linebacker for the Bulldogs for years. He was about the right size for a linebacker. He was a pretty good linebacker. And darn it, he enjoyed playing linebacker.

So imagine Ross shuddering in August when he heard the unwelcome news: We have too many linebackers.

Ross had a decision to make. He could remain a reserve at his preferred position, or he could vie for a starting role at defensive tackle, where he would be outsized by most offensive linemen and not be in on as many stops.

Ross pondered his options.

"I think the biggest problem was the comfort zone for him," said Gary Alonso, defensive line coach. "At defensive tackle, he'd have to learn a new position and new technique."

After serious deliberation, Ross opted for the switch, and it has paid off for all involved. He has earned all-Northwestern Region honors at the position he so tried to avoid, and the Bulldogs (13-0) play Varina (13-0) at 4 p.m. today in the Virginia AAA Division 6 state championship at the University of Richmond.

"It wasn't really a letdown, because I'm aggressive, and I want to play football," Ross said. "I don't really think about the linebacker position much anymore. I like defensive tackle."

Four months ago, the Bulldogs were not so sure Ross would feel that way.

"He moved to the defensive line very reluctantly because he wanted to be a linebacker so bad," Hylton Coach Bill Brown said. "His technique isn't perfect, but he never stops. You almost have to hold him to keep him blocked."

When the 6-foot, 200-pound Ross recorded two sacks against Woodbridge in Week 6, it was then he felt he had evolved from ex-linebacker to current defensive tackle.

"That was when it was like: This is the position," he said. "I'm having fun here. I'm getting to the quarterback. And I'm enjoying it. It's probably just as fun if not more fun as being at the linebacker position."

Fellow senior John Brower said his new line mate learned his duties in the same manner Ross does most things--in a hurry.

"It wasn't really hard because he has sort of a knack for where the ball is," Brower said. "He reads everything on the line. He does everything right. It came natural to him. He's had great games all year."

The North Stafford offense might have wished Ross had stayed at linebacker, because there he would have been a little farther from quarterback Chris Ashinhurst, whom he sacked three times in the first half of the 24-6 win over the Wolverines in the Northwestern Region championship.

Ross's responsibility usually is to keep the guard off the linebackers, play his gap and then fly to the ball. Against North Stafford, the unencumbered Ross's job was to hound Ashinhurst, who this season set a state record for passing yards in a season.

Ross recorded half of the Bulldogs' six sacks and helped force three interceptions in an "astonishing" performance, in Brower's estimation. All three of Hylton's postseason opponents have thrown three interceptions, in great part because of the pass rush.

"He causes so much havoc, it makes it easier for the rest of" the defense, Alonso said. "He's all instinct, and nothing he does is really hard to him because he's so fast. You'll see him on one side of the field where he's pursued so far he's outrun players who are supposed to be there."

"My engine's running 24-7," Ross said.

Which is a lot more beneficial to the Bulldogs than if Ross were a part-time linebacker idling on the sideline.

"I think he's enjoying defensive tackle," Brower said. "I think it's like: Hey, I'm a defensive tackle now. There's nothing I can change."

PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Today

Virginia AAA

Division 6

Final

Hylton (13-0) vs. Varina (13-0) at University of Richmond, 4 p.m.

Directions: I-95 South to 195 South (Downtown Expressway). Take Rosewood Avenue Exit. Turn left at McCloy Street. Stadium is on the right.

CAPTION: Once determined to be a linebacker, Chris Ross has become a force at defensive tackle, earning all-Northwestern District honors. No. 2 Hylton plays Varina today for the state title.