No matter where the football goes, Tyler Rhodes always seems in the right place at the right time.
Over the past two seasons, the East Lincoln senior linebacker has more than 235 tackles and many big plays to prove it.
While the senior's only 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, small by most football standards, he always plays big on the field.
"If you didn't know Tyler and you looked at him, it might surprise you to see what he can do on the field," said East Lincoln football coach Mike Byus. "But nothing Tyler does surprises me."
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Rhodes, who started playing football when he was 6, attributes a lot of his football knowledge to his father, Jack, who taught and coached him growing up and has pushed his son to get better.
"Having my dad as my coach wasn't always easy," said Rhodes, who played under his father until he was 13. "I learned early on that I had to be perfect. If I wasn't, he would let me know it. But in the long run, he made me a lot better player."
Rhodes, who led his team with 135 tackles last year as a junior, is having another big year this season for the Mustangs.
Rhodes had 109 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks and an interception going into the Cherryville game Oct. 28. He has been consistently good, recording a season-best 23 tackles against Bandys. Rhodes also registered 18 tackles against archrival Lincolnton.
But his most complete game was in a 39-24 win over 4A school Hopewell, when Rhodes dominated the game defensively with nine tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
The key to Rhodes' game is his ability to read plays before they develop. Byus says it comes from repetition that Rhodes has had since little league.
"Everything starts with your reads and I've been doing that for a long time," said Rhodes. "You've got to know what to look for and watch the guards and tackles and they pretty much will tell you what play they're running."
Rhodes gives Byus and his linebackers' coach David Lubowicz credit for helping him continue to improve.
Massive tackles Dallas Smith and Coriyo Boyd as well as linebacker Charlie Goss have also stepped up defensively.
"We have a lot of playmakers on our defense, but I think Tyler just has a little extra heart and desire that you don't see a lot and you can't coach," said Byus.
Rhodes' hard-hitting ability has also earned him the nickname "Smash."
"I think originally my nickname came from me being the strong side linebacker," Rhodes said. "But then, I think 'smash,' sort of stuck when I started to get a lot of big hits. I love contact, that is my favorite part of the game. I would rather run through somebody than run by them. I guess you could say I like to smash them."
Rhodes is also athletic, with good speed, according to Byus. He's also a key player on the Mustang baseball team.
While Rhodes is a talented all-around athlete, the East Lincoln senior hopes his future is on the football field.
Rhodes hopes his play on the field will get him an opportunity to continue his football career.
"I would love to play college football and I would pretty much go anywhere to play," he said.
Byus thinks all Rhodes needs is an opportunity.
"I know Tyler isn't the perfect size to play college football for everyone, he is a little undersized," he said. "But I think if someone gives him a chance, they will be a getting a great football player. We're going to do everything we can to help him get that chance."