TAMPA - Erik Shears is quick to point out he is not the biggest, strongest or quickest player to grace a football field. In looking at Shears' 5-foot-11, 230-pound frame, it would be hard for the Cambridge Christian senior linebacker to convince anyone otherwise.
But what Shears lacks in size, strength and speed, he makes up for with intelligence, a tool he feels more than compensates for what he might lack in any other area. Analyzing his production throughout his high school career, it's hard to argue against his point.
As a junior last season, Shears ranked among Hillsborough County's leaders with 142 tackles, a gaudy number that landed him Class 1B second-team all-state and Tribune All-Hillsborough County honorable mention honors. He has steadily increased his production each season since inheriting the starting middle linebacker position midway through his freshman season.
Now, entering his final high school season as a quicker, stronger version of last year's tackling machine, the Lancers' defensive stalwart could be poised for his best year.
'We're definitely hoping he takes it up a notch. I'm expecting as much,' said Cambridge Christian coach Rick Shears, Erik's father.
If Erik's work ethic this offseason is any indication, that shouldn't be a problem. On a good week this summer, Erik would hit the gym six times for a multi-hour workout, and that's not counting those multi-mile jogs he would also take through his neighborhood. On a bad week, Erik would cut back a bit - he'd limit himself to five grueling workouts per seven-day interval.
And that's not taking into account Erik's football-related activities. There was extra time spent working on mechanics, and extra time in the film room. Everything Shears did was in an effort to gain an edge, which he's hoping can vault him into the next tier of high school football players.
'I've definitely got a good work ethic. I'm out here 24/7, trying to get bigger, trying to get faster. I'm in the weight room every day I can, out there with my buddies, with whoever I can get. I work hard,' Erik said. 'I know I'm not the biggest kid in the world, or the tallest. But I know the game and I work hard at it.'
And sometimes, his coach can't thank him enough for that.
Rick Shears recalls last season's game against Santa Fe Catholic and the opposition's big, bruising fullback. The fullback was a little bigger than his son, and he spent much of the game mowing down smaller Lancers defenders and sending them to the sideline with a variety of injuries.
Erik continually stuck his helmet into the ruckus and finished with a school-record 25 tackles, shattering the previous mark of 18.
But Erik doesn't hang his hat on that game. After all, it was just business as usual.
He entered that game with the same mindset as any other game. And worrying about how big, quick or strong he is doesn't factor in one bit.
'I feel like I was just born to do this,' Erik said.
Cambridge Christian has undergone a second name change in the past six years. The school was known as The Cambridge School since 2003. Before that, it was known as Seminole Presbyterian.
The Lancers' five-year-old program is still seeking its first playoff berth, and this season could be its best chance, because Class 1B heavyweight Lakeland Victory Christian is no longer in the district.
The Lancers have nine seniors on this year's roster, a program high and five more than last season.
ABOUT THE LANCERS
STADIUM: Sam Horton Field (Jefferson High), 4401 W. Cypress St., Tampa
COACH: Rick Shear (16-14, 3 years at Cambridge Christian)
ON OFFENSE: The Lancers have a new quarterback in Etienne Turner, and Shears is expecting big things from him. Turner's primary targets should be returning starters Josh Lockwood and Michael Miller. But while Cambridge Christian may throw the ball more, the team will lean heavily on senior running back Taylor Cabral, who finished as the team's leading rusher in 2006 and enters this season with a string of three consecutive 100-yard performances.
ON DEFENSE: The Lancers switched things up a bit for the spring game, but the team has gone back to its traditional 5-3 stack. While there are still some things to sort out up front, the Lancers return all three starting linebackers from last season - fourth-year starter Erik Shears in the middle, and three-year starters Miller and Cabral around him. Josh Lockwood, one of the team's top defensive backs last season, has moved up to play a linebacker/defensive end position, and the Lancers should be solid in the secondary with returning starters Ryan Campbell and Micah Lewis.