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Monday, May 17, 2010

Asi leads Killeen linebackers as they move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense

By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald


When Royce Asi was a running back, he ran through holes and over defensive linemen and linebackers. The hits he delivered he said, were why coaches at Harker Heights and Killeen moved him to defense.

Back then, the move frustrated him.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Killeen junior linebacker liked having the ball in his hands and just running through holes, meeting whoever was there with a welcome pop.

Asi still has a knack for filling those holes with a pop but only now he does it as an all-state linebacker instead of as a running back.

Asi's grown into the position since he and Demetrius Ballard were sophomores on Killeen's state quarterfinal team in 2008. He's grown into a leader at the position with Ballard, Chad Ropati and Lawrence Lavan, all juniors.

"(Asi) taught me a lot," said Ropati. "He taught me to be humble, he taught me to play and just never get down on myself. Royce, he's a good kid.

"He's a big aspect to the defense. He was our star tackler last year. He encourages everyone, from the youngest freshman, he encourages everyone."

This season, the quartet of returning linebackers are at the center of the Kangaroos switch to a 3-4 defense to compensate for a lack of big bodies and numerous holes to fill on the offensive and defensive lines.

"I wish we could've done it last season. I think it would it would've helped a lot," said Asi. "... (Killeen head coach Sam Jones) used to switch all of us out, but we're all talented."

As they rotated in and out last season as part of Killeen's defense, they return this season as four the Kangaroos' top-six returning tacklers. The defensive switch makes it easier for the four to be a better brotherhood of leaders, Ballard said.

"It's great, actually ... We read each other, we play better with each other. We know what each other's thinking," said Ballard, who was team's No. 3 tackler with 112 total, 60 solo, last season. "You know you have to be on your stuff ... make sure you make the right decision. You can't mess up and make him (Jones) look bad because he did this for us."

Added Lavan, who had 85 total tackles last year, "It's better to have all of them on the field than to just have three and switching them out.

"... It's pressure, but after we learn it, it should be pretty easy.

"We all know what we're doing and we all can make a play when we need to."

Killeen had District 25-4A's fifth-ranked defense last season, allowing almost 350 yards per game, but had a district-best 32 takeaways.

They also surrendered 47 points and less than 550 total yards of offense in their two playoff games — a disappointing end for a team that shouldered expectations of a much longer postseason.

"We let the year before us, the team before us, we let them down. We didn't make it that far. This offseason, we're just working harder," said Ropati, who had 38 total tackles last year after moving from California to Killeen last spring.

"I gradually grew a strong bond with them throughout the season," Ropati said. "I was just out there. I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know anybody but Royce. It's a good feeling now. I feel more comfortable with the team and I feel like we're a stronger family."

When Asi switched from running back to linebacker as a sophomore, he used to just run through a hole and the running back would go the other direction, that could've made him get down on himself.

But, that's when running backs frustrated him and linemen just got in his way.

"It just feels great making that stop, it makes you feel good. "I was reading the play right, recognizing the play makes me feel good about it. And, of course, the hitting part, I'm looking for that pop. That's what everybody likes to see and I like that, too."

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