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Matt Williams makes his mark at middle linebacker

West Aurora's Matt Williams (36) goes over defensive strategies with teammate Dequan Booker during their game against Naperville Central Naperville

West Aurora's Matt Williams (36) goes over defensive strategies with teammate Dequan Booker during their game against Naperville Central in Naperville on Friday. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 21, 2012 2:57PM

He’s the man in the middle of the West Aurora defense and Matt Williams is fast becoming the center of attention for Blackhawks’ opponents.

“You can see it on the tape of that (Wheaton Warrenville South) game (two weeks ago),” West defensive coordinator Tony Melchiori said of his senior middle linebacker.

“In the beginning of the game Matt was making almost every tackle. He was dominating that game. After halftime, they came out and started double teaming him a lot, trying to take him out of the play.

“He’d been our leading tackler every game until last week and I’m pretty sure Naperville Central was keying on Matt. If they’re smart they would. Now, we’ve got to move him around some and do some things to free him up.”

The 6-foot-1 Williams played outside linebacker at about 180 pounds last year in the Blackhawks’ 3-5 scheme. He was in the weight room daily over the summer and added 25-27 pounds of muscle and improved his max bench press by 30 pounds from a year ago to 255.

That was just part of the reason Melchiori, who is in his 13th year at West and 18th year coaching high school defense overall, moved Williams to the middle over the summer.

“We’re going with a little different scheme, more 4-3, due to the makeup of our team and the main reason was Matt,” the coach said. “We had smaller linebackers last year and not as many defensive linemen to fill out a 4-3.

“Another reason was Matt’s speed and ability to read plays and get to the ball. He is probably the best linebacker I’ve coached who can read a play, like a pull, and get to the right gap. We’re trying to protect him with the bigger guys up front and let him run to make the play.”

The move surprised Williams but he was happy with it.

“I played there as a sophomore,” he said. “In the middle, I feel like I can get everywhere to the ball, whether they go to the left or right. I’m not limited to just one side.”

He played fullback his freshman and sophomore years and is a backup RB this year, but says, “I really love playing defense more than anything.”

West head coach Nate Eimer said he couldn’t ask for more from Williams.

“You’re not gonna find a better kid,” said Eimer. “He put the time in in the offseason and he practices like he plays. He makes plays all the time.”

Twice he’s been named a team captain this season.

“We name them each week, a philosophy of mine,” said Eimer. “It’s tough to maintain that leadership role all season long. I think leaders pop up from week to week, so the coaches go over it each week based on performance and practice and name them. He’s kind of a quiet leader but he does his job on the field and in the classroom, too.”

He wants to keep doing it next year, too, having received some recruiting interest from the likes of Illinois State and Western Illinois.

“His speed off the ball is unbelievable, he reads the play and he’s in the backfield,” said Melchiori. “He’s the best linebacker I’ve seen this year. Any school picking him up is going to be more than surprised.”

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