Terence Belton is the latest of a string of big-time middle linebackers to strut the halls of Guyer High School.
In Guyer’s five-year run of successful playoff appearances, Belton is in his first year of starting at the position and has followed in the footsteps of some great ones, most notably Blake Terry and Dominic Ramacher, who are both playing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level now.
Like Ramacher, Belton is playing middle linebacker for the first time in his career as a senior and though Guyer linebackers coach Casey Hubble said the linebackers are basically interchangeable in his system, there is a bit more that goes with playing in the middle.
“The leadership that it takes to play that position is big because you do have to control everything, organize and know you’re accountable for everything,” Hubble said. “If we don’t get lined up right, it doesn’t really matter if they didn’t hear the call or whatever, you’re ultimately responsible for it. If you don’t look at it like that, you’re setting yourself up to accept failure. He’s done a good job of meeting that expectation.”
While Terry and Ramacher undoubtedly had their landmark games at the position, Belton had his last Saturday in Guyer’s hard-fought win over Amarillo, in which Guyer perhaps got more of a game than it was expecting on an unseasonably warm West Texas day.
Thanks to a hard-pounding Wing-T offensive attack from Amarillo, Guyer’s defense was on the field for drives of 16 and 18 plays, leaving even the most conditioned players physically and mentally exhausted.
Belton finished the game with 18 tackles with one behind the line of scrimmage and a pass breakup to help his team earn a 38-30 win and a berth in Saturday’s Class 4A Division I regional final.
Guyer head coach John Walsh said Belton had four “game-changing,” or momentum-shifting, hits on the day, but perhaps none were bigger than one late in the fourth quarter.
With less than four minutes to play, Amarillo was within one score and had the ball at the Guyer 34-yard line, facing third-and-3. The Sandies had frustrated the Wildcats all day with third-down conversions, but on this play Belton was sure to buck that trend.
Running back Josh Woods took a handoff up the middle and seemed to have an opening before Belton came out of nowhere to lay out Woods, stopping him for a 2-yard gain and forcing fourth down.
“I thought it did give a spark,” said Belton, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior. “I knew I had to go out and do my job, and I knew someone had to light a spark and the rest of the defense would start stepping up and playing. I felt after a couple of big hits that everyone else started stepping up, too. It felt like it lit something under the defense.”
On the next play, Amarillo was whistled for delay of game and then faced fourth-and-6 when the Sandies’ drive came to an end with an incomplete pass. Guyer went on to score with a little more than two minutes remaining to go up by 15 points and essentially seal the victory.
But Belton’s big hits weren’t just bone-crunching and flashy, they were vicious and cerebral.
Hubble said what makes Belton so special is his special blend of intelligence, speed and strength, and that showed on those crucial plays.
“A couple of those were nice, big hits, but they were also crucial hits where if he doesn’t do it exactly like he’s been coached to do — it’s a bang-bang play and if he doesn’t go right when he goes, it’s out of the gate,” Hubble said. “I was very pleased with not necessarily the style of the hits but the decision-making it took to make the plays.”
That should not come as a surprise to anyone that knows Belton, a highly intelligent kid playing a position that requires that trait to be great. That is evidenced by the fact he has an offer from the Air Force Academy and is garnering interest from schools such as Rice.
Hubble said his linebackers in the past, such as Terry, were “gamblers” and would make highlight-reel plays but also would take themselves out of plays at times.
That’s not Belton, who was inserted as the starting middle linebacker despite having never played the position and missing all of spring football after undergoing surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum in January.
“I don’t think Belton has messed up this year,” Hubble said. “He might have missed a tackle or something, but as far as just being completely wrong, he hasn’t done it. He’s really put it all together. Dom was really good and really sound, but Belton might have edged him out a little bit.”
The intelligence also goes along with leadership, something Belton has taken to naturally despite being a backup and a special teams player as a junior and playing his first year at middle linebacker after two years of outside linebacker and one year as a defensive end.
“When Walsh mentioned it [playing middle linebacker], I wanted to go ahead and go up and take the spot,” Belton said. “I was ready for it when Walsh went ahead and told me. Hubble talked to me, too, and just said they needed me there. I was just coming off shoulder surgery, and I knew I’d have to train hard and be ready for it when the season came around.”
That leadership was clear after Saturday’s game, when Belton pointed out his disappointment in some of his defensive teammates’ play on third down.
Hubble said he was glad to see the comments printed in the newspaper but never expected any feelings to be hurt because of the respect Belton has garnered from his teammates.
“I’d hope so,” Hubble said when asked if Belton’s teammates can handle criticism from him. “The play that he had speaks for itself. He had 18 tackles. In this game, if coaches, kids and everyone hold each other accountable, we’re more likely to be successful.
“He’s never going to step out of bounds and be a jerk to other kids and yell at people for no reason. But there’s nothing wrong with calling people out if something’s not acceptable. That’s what we do to them. They need to do that to each other, too. Ultimately, it’s their team.”
While every player takes ownership of the team, there are a couple of unquestioned leaders on the defense in Belton and senior defensive tackle Domenic Pickering, and even though both are new starters this season, Walsh said he was convinced Belton would be ready for the role before the season even began.
“I think that’s just how his mom and dad raised him,” Walsh said. “He is a high-character guy, and he’s worked hard. This means something to him. It’s hard to make a leader in a year or two. Your true leaders are raised by their mom and dad as leaders, and he’s one of them.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .