When he's been compared to some other football players, Easton Sprabary has been told that he is a step or two behind. But when it comes to desire and will, the First Assembly senior middle linebacker is at the head of the pack.
Accepting that foot speed is not one if his virtues, Sprabary makes up the difference with his smarts and ferocity.
A four-year varsity starter, Sprabary has played in the last three N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state championship games. The Eagles have won the last two and Sprabary feels they may be peaking at the right time to make a run at a third.
Though he was an important role player for two seasons, Sprabary had a breakout year in 2010. He was selected to the Central Piedmont Football all-conference team and was named all-state.
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This season, Sprabary is putting together a pretty good encore. Through eight games, he had 89 tackles.
"The word 'headhunter' comes to mind," said First Assembly interim head coach Mike Dunn. "He's always around the ball. He clogs up that middle very well for us."
Sprabary leads a linebacking corps that includes three of the conference's top four tacklers. Seniors Ben Price (77 tackles) and Brandon Broom (75) are also enjoying fine seasons.
Aware that skeptics would think this could be a rebuilding year for First Assembly because of key losses from last year's team, Sprabary and the Eagles made a statement in their opener against Forsyth Country Day. The senior had 13 tackles as First Assembly captured an 18-15 victory.
First Assembly has fallen to a couple of Division I heavy-hitters in Charlotte Christian and Charlotte Country Day, but the Eagles have again secured their place among the best teams in Division II.
Against Harrells Christian Academy, with which First Assembly has established a rivalry in recent years, Sprabary led a defensive push in the second half that helped the Eagles rebound from an early 22-0 deficit. Sprabary recorded a season-high 18 tackles as First Assembly notched a 32-28 comeback win.
First Assembly met Harrells in three Division II state championship games from 2007-09. Last year, the Eagles defeated its rival in the playoffs on its way to beating conference rival Westminster Catawba in the state title game.
Sprabary is certain to be given consideration for Central Piedmont Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year, an honor he finished runner-up for in 2010 when he recorded 135 tackles. He had a career-high 21 stops against Arden Christ School last season.
Hoping to land a college scholarship, Sprabary attended camps at Wofford, Furman, Wingate and Texas Christian. He also auditioned at a combine at Western Carolina.
Every place he went, the 5-foot-11, 220 pound Sprabary got similar feedback from coaches: he wasn't fast enough.
"I felt I had to get faster," said Sprabary. "My 40 (yard dash) time wasn't up to par. My dad and I got together and said 'Let's work on this.' I ran more, did jump rope. My speed is gradually getting better."
He added that his 40-yard dash time has dropped to 5 seconds and he continues to train to improve it even more.
"I think Easton's mental toughness, his instincts for the ball are top notch," said Dunn. "If he'll work on his speed in the offseason, I think he'll find opportunities opening up for him. I think he will be able to play somewhere."