by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
North Mecklenburg High’s defensive line is jagged.
Not so much when they line up, but when they stand up.
On one end is Josh Stepoli, who is 6 foot 9. On the other end is Tahjai Watt, who stands 6-5. Then there’s the nose tackle, Greg Mobley. He’s 5-11. That’s not small by any means, unless, like Mobley, you’re elbow-to-elbow with very tall teammates.
Hey, you can’t pick your height.
Mobley handles the interior with quick hands and feet. He’s thick through the chest and arms, and has a linemen’s mentality.
The trio has played well and is hoping to help the Vikings gain momentum in an up-and-down season. North Mecklenburg (1-5, 0-2 I-MECK 4A conference) will host Hough at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30.
Stepoli, Watt and Mobley get moved around on certain plays, depending on the opponent and the situation. But they’re nearly always near the ball at play’s end.
Watt has a team-high 68 tackles and eight sacks. Stepoli has six sacks. Mobley, slowed by a high ankle sprain, had a 15-tackle effort in the Vikings’ victory at East Mecklenburg.
“When you’re playing end, it requires a little more quickness,” said Mobley, a junior. “Nose (tackle) is a little more strength. But playing on the line, period, you have to be tough. It starts in the mind. Every play is a war. You’ve got to come hard on every play.”
North Meck coach Mike Bradley said Mobley’s contributions often can’t be measured.
“Sometimes you don’t see what he does,” Bradley said. “Greg gets double-teamed because he’s so much quicker than everybody he plays against.”
That frees up teammates to make tackles,or forces opponents to swing outside, where Stepoli or Watt is waiting.
Watt, a junior who also starts on the basketball team, weighs 205 pounds.
“On the pass rush, I’m supposed to get after the quarterback,” Watt said. “On running plays, I’m not as big as Stepoli, and I know I won’t be able to blow everybody off the ball. So I need to hold my ground and let the play come to me.”
Said Bradley: “Tahjai is just a good mix of athleticism and quickness. And he’s smart. He’s an (International Baccalaureate) student. He and Josh are probably the two that have the best chance to play Division I football. He’s got that D-I body that someone’s going to look at him and put 25-30 pounds on him. He is so quick, and at the next level rushing the passer, he’s going to be even more effective.”
Stepoli, a senior who also plays offensive tackle, moved from Pennsylvania in August. He’s received heavy attention from Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Indiana, Temple and Marshall.
“I use my size to disrupt every play I can,” Stepoli said. “My speed off the line is pretty good. I can beat some of the linemen because they’re fat and slow. I just try to create havoc.”
Stepoli also is a basketball player. He said that helps his footwork as a lineman.
“Josh probably has the best feet and hips of any big kid I’ve been around, that’s (me) playing in college and coaching 32 years,” Bradley said. “He’s kind of a natural. There’s so much potential there.”
Potential exists, but for now, the trio is more concerned about turning around North Mecklenburg’s season.
‘It’s all about responsibility,” Mobley said. “Everyone needs to be responsible for what they need to do. Get to where you need to be, and the play will come to you. You can’t worry about the stats, or being looked at (by colleges), because all that will come if you’re responsible.”
And what’s the best part of being a defensive lineman?
Stepoli: “I get to hit.”
Watt: “Every once in a while, you get to look at the person across from you and he just knows you beat him.”
Mobley: “I’m a physical guy. I love hitting other players in the nose. You hit them that first time, and they don’t want to come hard anymore.”