BUFORD — Buford High defensive lineman Omar Hunter always has a tune at the tip of his tongue, and a witty comment in his back pocket. Dallas Lee is usually right beside him to grin and shake his head.
As practice began on Monday afternoon, the entire Buford football team (10-0) started the day with some intense bear crawls up and down the practice field. But even that didn’t stop Hunter, a Notre Dame recruit, from showing his love for rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Hunter, a senior and leader of the Wolves defensive line, started his rendition as the linemen moved into their position drills.
"Sweet Home Alabama," Hunter belted out from one knee. "You can put that in the paper."
"Oh no, don’t get him started," Lee said.
When asked, Hunter said his favorite is ‘Simple Man,’ but he saves that one for game day. Lee says he’s heard it all too many times.
Hunter and Lee, a junior, have become fast friends as defensive linemen for Class AA’s top-ranked Wolves as they strive to win the school’s first state title since 2003. That’s a long time in Buford years.
"That’s what we’re here for is to win state," Lee said. "Nothing less."
They even have forged a friendship that extends beyond the playing field with their similar ambition.
"Yeah, when he makes time," Hunter said. "He’s living that rock star lifestyle."
"Well you’re the one that’s always getting interviewed," Lee said with a smile.
The subtle differences in their personalities only make them stronger on the field as anchors for the stout Wolves defense — which has only allowed one rushing touchdown this season — as they prep for their first round playoff game against Washington-Wilkes on Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium.
It may seem that Hunter’s jokes center around the guy beside him on the line, but truth be told, nobody is immune.
Hunter even finds time to chime in when one of his teammates is being photographed for another publication.
"What’s he doing with a football in his hands?," the 300-pound tackle said. "He’s as big as I am, he’s a lineman too."
But the joking quickly ends when Buford coach Jess Simpson blows the whistle.
Hunter and Lee are consistently the first ones to hustle to the line for every drill and first to explode off of a tackling sled.
"They’re always competing against each other to get better," Buford quarterback Twoey Hosch said. "They do such a good job in games stopping the other team’s offense that our average starting point for a normal drive is around the 50."
Hunter, a Notre Dame recruit, is a coach’s dream with his 300-pound frame and freakish 4.9 speed in the 40-yard dash. According to teammates, he’s unofficially been clocked as fast as 4.7. His production speaks for itself with a team-high 35 quarterback pressures, four caused fumbles and near the top of the team with 69 tackles.
He set the standard for his senior season right off the bat, hitting the Grove City (Ohio) quarterback nine times in the season opener in Canton, Ohio.
Lee (6-4, 290) leads the Wolves in tackles for a loss (9) and is second on the team with eight sacks. He knows next year it’s going to be his job to anchor the tackles once Hunter leaves for South Bend.
That’s quite a staple to build a defense around.
"I tell everyone my philosophy, that the quarterback and defensive line affect the game more than anyone," Simpson said. "They (Lee and Hunter) disrupt the play call and move together to block. ... I think they certainly feed off of each other."
The tackle duo of Lee/Hunter is just part of an outstanding defensive line including Tyler King, Andrew Sachais, Billy Johnson and Andy Kellogg, among others, that only allowed 13 yards offense in the Region 6-AA championship win last week against Lovett.
But winning the region title is just the start of the season for these beasts on the line. It’s all about winning 15 games this season.
"That’s what drives me is winning that state title," Hunter said. "Finishing the regular season undefeated means nothing, I’m not going to be satisfied unless we win state."
Hunter makes his intentions of winning the state championship known loud-and-clear on the practice field for coaches and teammates to hear.
His voice races down the practice field: "Coach Simpson, I’m quitting in five weeks."
"Yeah coach, I’m quitting in a year and five weeks," Lee says without missing a beat.
Despite the jokster demeanor, Hunter commands respect on the practice field. As the linemen move from drill to drill, Hunter yells out "let’s go baby" to rally the troops.
These two massive Wolves have taken different tracks to their dominant status as two of the state’s top defensive tackles.
Hunter first started in the program in the eighth grade as a tailback, and by his sophomore year it was clear he had outgrown a running back’s body, and he transitioned to defensive line and tight end.
Simpson first took notice of how he could dominate when he turned in big games clogging the line against Gainesville, and then in the playoffs against Westside-Augusta as a sophomore.
As a junior, he jumped on the national radar as one of the top defensive lineman with 85 tackles and 13 for a loss.
"The biggest thing is the energy and juice he brings to the team," Simpson said. "He’s come so far and really had a consistent senior season."
Lee took the path of least resistance and decided to learn from Hunter early in his career. It’s worked out pretty well.
According to Simpson, he’s also now a Division I prospect for the class of 2009.
"He (Dallas) has a lot of football savvy and knows where to be," Simpson said. "The biggest thing he does is create negative plays."
The buzz these players have created is felt all over campus. Both Lee and Hunter carry strong grade point averages and are good representatives of Buford football, according to principal Stephen Miller.
"They are both class individuals," he said. "I know Omar well, and he’s the kind of kid if you stop and talk with him he stops and shakes your hand and is always very respectful."
The entire Wolves fan base is hoping for the next five weeks these lineman continue to dominate and bring the state title back home to Buford.