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April 25, 2010
Howard County beware: A killer Kluge is coming
Smack-em-in-the-mouth, mud-slinging, down-and-dirty intensity.
That's all you need to know about River Hill junior Brent Kluge, a linebacker so fierce he scares quarterbacks in their sleep.
"When that whistle sounds," Kluge said, "the switch flips and something inside me just goes off. Off the field we can be friends. But between the white lines, it's go time. I want to rip your head off."
Kluge spent the better part of 2009 doing just that. In his first year at River Hill after transferring from Hereford, Kluge quickly became a force in Howard County. He led the Hawks - coming off back-to-back perfect seasons -- with 113 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks. As a fullback, he racked up 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns.
After the season he was named Washington Post All-Metro for defense, an honor usually given to seniors.
"He's everything you're looking for in a linebacker," said River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen. "He's big, strong, aggressive, he's got good speed, he can hit and he's got good knowledge of the game."
Notice, however, that Van Deusen didn't mention "size." At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds Kluge doesn't exactly resemble Dick Butkus back there. But his passion more than makes up for what he lacks in physical stature.
Just ask Kalvin Seamonson, the star quarterback for Atholton last year. In the playoffs, Kluge practically annihilated him with one of his signature sacks. On one play the River Hill defense called for a middle blitz, and Kluge charged up the middle.
But the Atholton line clogged the hole, temporarily averting Kluge's surge. Kluge, undeterred, feinted dropping back into coverage. But when the opposing lineman hesitated, Kluge blew by him and delivered a blindside smash.
"I just ran in there and leveled him," Kluge said. "Any chance I get to hit the quarterback I'm all over it. That's what I love.
"A lot of people say I'm too short or don't weight enough to make an impact," he continued. "But then I say, 'Look at [Colts linebacker] Gary Brackett. He's 5-10, 225 and he's making plays everywhere. Anyone with the drive and athleticism can succeed. Just watch me on the field - you'll see what I can do.."
Trust us, Brent, we saw plenty. What we didn't see was what you did behind the scenes, in the weight room.
Despite packing just 215 pounds, Kluge is the strongest player pound-for-pound on the Hawks' squad. He benches 320 pounds, squats 515 and cleans over 500. Last year Kluge became the first junior in school history to enter the prestigious River Hill 1,000 Pound Club.
"Last year was his first year, but he really earned a lot of respect early on when he showed how strong he was," Van Deusen said. "He's a no-nonsense guy who just goes out and works hard 110 percent of the time, especially with the lifting. He became a leader right away."
Kluge plays with a chip lodged firmly on his shoulder. The slights about his height drive him on and off the field. He lifts like a bodybuilder even though he's already a physical specimen; he runs track even though he already clocks a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash; he eats like a nutritionist even though he's just a kid in high school.
Why? Because he wants a college scholarship - he's currently projected on the Division I-AA level - and he wants to win.
"I bust my butt," Kluge said. "Someone who wants to be a special player has to go out of their way not just for themselves but for the team. That person has to be in the gym twice as long as the next guy; that person has to run twice is hard; that person has to push and sacrifice everything they have to be the best. On and off the field, I give it my all."
Van Deusen notes that Kluge is more than just a physical freak. The coach said he's one of the team's smartest players as well. Kluge is an avid film watcher and he's been playing football since he was in diapers, so his in-game IQ is quite advanced.
As a middle linebacker, it's Kluge's responsibility to call out the plays and make sure his teammates are in their proper positions.
"In Howard County there are so many different offenses from spreads to wing-Ts to pro styles, and at River Hill we're always shifting our coverages and blitzes around," Van Deusen said. "It's not easy to pick up on unless you study it.
"The linebackers have to be the leaders; they have to know what's going on. Brent did an exceptional job with that last year."
Kluge showed his on-field awareness early in 2009. He recalls a play against Mount Hebron where the opposing quarterback ran an inside draw. The runner was quickly engulfed by the River Hill defense, but in the process the ball popped out. With both sides packed into the scrum, no one saw the ball roll away.
Except for Kluge.
"No one else saw it, so I ran in, picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown," Kluge said. "That was really cool; it was surreal because there was no one else around me. It's always special to score on defense."
Of course, scoring on offense is nice, too. Kluge did that 12 times in 2009, often picking up the tough yards between the tackles. He runs with a straight-ahead, downhill style reminiscent of former Redskins great John Riggins.
"He's a hard-nosed runner, real tough to bring down," Van Deusen said. "He runs with a purpose. With him picking up tough yards, it opened up the lanes for our other skill guys."
With Kluge dominating on both sides of the ball, he helped River Hill outscore opponents by more than 30 points per game. He was part of a defense that pitched five shutouts and allowed an average of six points; he was part of an offense that put up 35 per night.
After 12 weeks River Hill was 12-0 and looked destined for their third straight perfect season. But then they lost to Huntingtown in the state semifinals. It was the school's first defeat in 40 tries.
"You know, in a sport like this it's hard to stay on top," Kluge said. "There's always going to be someone who might have a better day, might work just a bit harder sooner or later you're going to lose.
"But that being said, I don't want that to happen again. Now we have to come back out next year with more fire and more intensity."
Howard County beware: A killer Kluge is coming.