LILBURN, Ga. — For Eastside’s Jamari Brundage, there’s a very simple explanation as to why he doesn’t spend a ton of time thinking about how much bigger the players around him are.
“Oh, it’s heart over height,” Brundage said. Then he repeated it even more emphatically.
“Heart over height. The height, the weight, all that. Those are just numbers. I still continue to play with the same kind of intensity. No matter what, I’m out there competing no matter what.”
To be sure, the stature of the Eagles’ middle linebacker is something he’s gotten used to answering questions about. But nobody with any decent amount of football acumen should question his ability to produce.
Despite standing 5-foot-6 and about 180 pounds, Brundage played well enough to be considered a key cog in an Eastside defense that surrendered just 15.3 points per game, good for tops in Region 4-AAAA.
It was about as good stopping the run as the offense was ramming the ball down opponents’ throats with its own high-powered rushing attack. And Eastside football coach Troy Hoff said it was in those moments practicing with and against his teammates where Brundage has proven himself.
“There you see the work ethic,” Hoff said. “Jamari Brundage is one of those guys at linebacker who’s always consistent. He’s always where he’s supposed to be. Day in and day out, practice or games, you know what you’re gonna get from him.”
Brundage tallied 73 total tackles as a junior in 2017, including 32 solo stops and 9.5 tackles for losses. He was second on the team in tackles last year, next to graduated senior Jaylon Lackey. He’ll be the program’s leading returnee in both tackling categories upon the start of the 2018 campaign.
But Hoff says there’s something about Brundage that’s even more critical to Eastside’s success as a stingy defense than just the stat sheet measurables.
“The really valuable part is his ability to communicate on defense,” Hoff said. “He’s like the quarterback of the defense. He knows where he’s supposed to be, but he knows how to get others where they’re supposed to be. And he’s grown into that role tremendously. He’s a program kid whose been with us since day one. The commitment he’s put in to be in that position and be that person for us on defense has been remarkable.”
During Eastside’s time at a two-day padded camp at Parkview High this past week, Brundage was able to display exactly those qualities that make him an asset.
On one particular play while Eastside’s defense was matched up against a Mountain View offense trying to work on establishing a viable run game, Brundage stood over the line with a studious look, pointed to his left for a linebacker to slide over, and shouted out instructions for the defensive line.
His instruction helped an Eastside lineman position himself properly to stuff the a-gap, resulting in a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. With just a few seconds to diagnose a play before the snap, Brundage says his pre-snap reads and chatter have become almost like a second language.
“That’s how much I study what I have to do,” he said. “When I come up to the line, and I see a power set up, for instance, I have to be like, ‘Ok, T-man, come on and slide to the right. Cornerbacks, wrist, wrist, wrist. Lock up.’ It just comes natural after a while. As the quarterback of the defense I’ve just gotta be everywhere and see everything on the field for myself and everyone else. The way I communicate, it’s just a big part of our success because my communication goes from the d-line to the backers and safeties. It affects everybody.”
But his defensive prowess goes beyond just the cerebral aspects of identifying formations and orchestrating run fits. Brundage has the physical tools to match his football IQ. In fact, his diminutive stature may even be a strength for him at times.
“He is a bit undersized, but that actually works to his advantage at linebacker because he’s so quick,” Hoff said. “He’s not afraid to play physical. He’s got a low center of gravity, and sometimes he’s hard to see because of how he plays low to the ground. That’s huge.”
And, according to Eastside defensive coordinator Nathan Ogle, Brundage’s intangibles make him the total package, and a coach’s dream.
“He’s one of my all time favorites to coach, if not my all-time favorite,” Ogle said. “He loves his team, he practices toward perfection. He’s tough, well-mannered and he’s never had to complete a punishment run for behavior. He’s who you’d want your daughter to date, no lie. Plus he has a nasty sense for the ball.”
All of that combined with the fact that four of Eastside’s top five tacklers in 2017 have graduated seems to signal an even bigger breakout year for Brundage.
“I moved him to our middle linebacker spot, and I’m kicking myself for not doing that earlier in his career,” Ogle said. “He started every game for us last year, but I feel as if he’s ready for an astronomical year.”
In assessing his accomplishments, and even looking toward his future as a non-traditional college prospect, Brundage is a bit of a throwback. He doesn’t take credit for himself, mentioning graduated players like Jaylon Lackey and Garrett Stevens as being instrumental in his maturation as player.
And he almost seems annoyed at the idea of talking college recruiting.
It’s not that he doesn’t think he’s a worthy prospect. It’s just that He doesn’t believe stressing over it is productive. Ultimately, he says he sees his success most clearly through the success of the program as a whole.
“I don’t know if I have any (college) interests or offers or anything like that,” Brundage said. “I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it. All I can do is go out and play my best and give my 100 percent to my teammates and my coaches and my team, and all those things will take care of themselves. I can’t control my height or size or what others think of it. But I can control my effort.”