Gainesville at Allatoona
Buford vs. Marist
Jefferson vs. Blessed Trinity
Commerce vs. Calhoun County
Week 3 playoff previews
Bruce Miller knows exactly what it takes to get a reaction out of prized linebacker J.D. Sosebee.
Quiet and generally reserved during the week, the 220-pound senior eventually turns into an alpha male right before the coach’s eyes.
“J.D. really changes about 5:30 on Friday night,” the Red Elephants coach said. “Once he gets on the field and sees the other team, he’s ready to play.”
Quiet could even be an understatement for Sosebee’s personality.
“He doesn’t speak unless you speak to him first,” Miller said. “But he’s a very intensely driven football player.”
The Red Elephants (10-2) will count on Sosebee heavily in Friday’s Class AAAAA state quarterfinal game against No. 4 Allatoona (12-0), a run-first program with 2,000-yard rusher Russell Halimon in the backfield.
“I love to play in games like this,” said Sosebee, who has a team-high 166 tackles on the season. “My plan is to do my job the best I can for our team on every single play.”
Sosebee said his secret to flipping the switch on game night is to get music cranking in his ears during pre-game activities.
“Once I get the music going, it gets me in the mood to play,” Sosebee said.
Miller doesn’t mind that the linebacker is a man of few words. Red Elephants co-defensive coordinator Steve Wilson said Sosebee, a Charleston Southern commit, has a keen ability to channel all his energy on the field to maximize his potential and make the night miserable for opposing running backs.
“J.D. has been solid in all of our games this season,” said Wilson, who previously was head coach at Gainesville from 2000-2001. “He can shut down the other team’s running game between the tackles.”
Sosebee has become a more dominant presence on the field as the season has progressed. He had a team-high 21 tackles (15 solo) in the Red Elephants’ second-round win against Harris County on Nov. 14. His best night of the season was a 22-tackle performance against Flowery Branch to wrap up the regular season on Nov. 7.
Gainesville’s leading tackler has developed a reputation for making bruising hits. Last week, Sosebee’s monster effort kept in check the ground game of Tigers running back Tae Crowder, who is a Kentucky prospect, and quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who is headed to Georgia Tech next year.
“He doesn’t mind hurting you when he hits,” Miller said.
Sosebee is not easy to miss when he lines up on the field in the middle of the Red Elephants’ defense. He’s a firecracker with fullback size. According to Miller, Sosebee’s strength also comes from his work in the weight room, where he can dead lift about 550 pounds.
Sosebee said his drive to make plays comes from following in the footsteps of former Red Elephants linebacker Devan Stringer, who is playing extensively as a freshman at Appalachian State. Sosebee and Stringer played side by side for three seasons.
Sosebee said he learned the mentality it takes to play linebacker from his friend Stringer, who recorded 152 tackles for Gainesville last season. Sosebee is just seven tackles shy of the 173 made by Tennessee’s A.J. Johnson as a senior at Gainesville in 2010.
Sosebee also looks up to his big brother, Tim Rucker, who is four years older and was a defensive end for the Red Elephants.
Not only does Sosebee deliver intense hits, he’s got more than adequate speed. Against Apalachee, he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. Then against Clarke Central, he recovered a blocked field goal by Toddrick Turner and took it 75 yards for a touchdown.
Another sign of Sosebee’s athletic ability is his knack for causing fumbles. He’s forced four this season.
Sosebee said he bounced around at different positions — even playing offensive line — prior to his freshman season.
When he got into high school, defensive coordinator Jim Pavao, who is now head coach at Fannin County, had the idea to try Sosebee at linebacker.
It was an immediate fit. Sosebee has started there ever since his sophomore season and constantly provided a boost to Gainesville’s defensive unit.
Sosebee’s size and strength, combined with teammate Chris Byrd’s speed, makes for quite a linebacking duo for the Red Elephants.
“I feel like we have two of the best linebackers in the state,” Miller said.