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Greg Jones

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Bishop Dwenger at Snider, 7 p.m.
Columbus Hartley (Ohio) at Bishop Luers, 7:30 p.m.
Lakeland at Concordia, 7 p.m.
Northrop at Wayne, 7 p.m.
South Side at North Side, 7 p.m.
Columbia City at Carroll, 7 p.m.
DeKalb at Bellmont, 7 p.m.
Homestead at Norwell, 7 p.m.
New Haven at East Noble, 7 p.m.
Adams Central at Bluffton, 7 p.m.
Garrett at Leo, 7 p.m.
Heritage at Jay County, 7 p.m.
South Adams at Woodlan, 7 p.m.
Angola at Fremont, 7 p.m.
Eastside at Central Noble, 7:30 p.m.
West Noble at Prairie Heights, 7 p.m.
Elkhart Memorial at Wawasee, 7:30 p.m.
Monroe Central at Southern Wells, 7:30 p.m.
North Miami at Tippecanoe Valley, 7 p.m.
NorthWood at Warsaw, 7:30 p.m.
Richmond at Huntington North, 7 p.m.
Rochester at Whitko, 7 p.m.
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Snider linebacker Rahju Blackmon, a three-year starter, blocks a pass at practice.

Panthers linebacker a big hitter

Offenses have changed with teams spreading out defenses and looking to throw more. With that, defenses have had to evolve as well.

Rahju Blackmon has been the man in the middle of the Snider defense for the past three seasons, anchoring the Panthers against offenses of all different looks and formations. But for the senior, the focus of the spot hasn’t changed all that much.

“A lot of colleges want to see you play out in space and want to see your coverage,” Blackmon said Thursday, one day before tonight’s big SAC matchup with rival Bishop Dwenger (5-2, 4-1 SAC). “But when you are a linebacker at the end of the day, you just have to make tackles and hit somebody.”

Gone are the gaudy tackle numbers for linebackers. Gone are the opportunities for linebackers, even the ones inside, to stay around the line of scrimmage and control the run game without any pass coverage responsibilities.

The 6-foot, 220-pound Blackmon leads Snider (5-2, 4-1) with 48 tackles and 17 assisted tackles. He also has three sacks and two interceptions.

“I don’t think you can go by statistics because offenses have changed so much over those years where teams don’t run as much as they used to, and teams are spreading it out over the place,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. “We don’t talk too much about statistics. He has as good of an understanding of defense than any linebacker we have ever had.”

A sophomore starter who rotated in and out of the lineup with older players, Blackmon is blessed with size and speed combined with a physical nature and the savvy to play linebacker.

“I just want to be physical all the time,” Blackmon said. “You never want to have that mindset that I don’t feel like hitting someone. I always wanted to be physical, and I always wanted to play fast.”

Tippmann said it is more mental than physical for his leading tackler, who takes challenging classes at Snider and is fluent in Spanish.

“He knows what should’ve happened so we could’ve stopped the play,” Tippmann said. “He is very astute to the things going on and how we should handle them. He is very bright and that carries over to the football field. He has advantages because he is a three-year starter and has played a lot of football games. He is very football smart and gets himself in positions that allow him to be in position to make plays.

“He has a very engaging personality. He is very well-spoken, and he is a neat kid to talk to.”

It is those experiences, including last year’s run to the Class 5A state championship game, which have made Blackmon keenly aware of what offenses are attempting to do and how to try and stop them.

“It just comes from reps,” Blackmon said. “Playing so much over the years that you have seen so many different offenses, and you can anticipate what offenses are going to do and watching film and preparing throughout the week before translates into you feel like you know what offenses are going to do before they snap the ball.”

Blackmon’s presence gives Tippmann peace of mind.

“He is the loudest guy on the field,” Tippmann said. “He is very confident in what is going on, and he has a presence about him that you know when he is on the field and when he is in the huddle.”

Greg Jones is the high school sports editor for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in the Fort Wayne area since 1998. He can be reached by email; phone, 461-8224; or fax 461-8648.