WOODLAND HILLS — At first glance, a bluegill looks an awful lot like a piranha. The shape is similar, ditto the size.
Then there are the teeth. A piranha, of course, has the kind of chompers that make instant weight loss a medical reality. A bluegill wouldn't scare an earthworm.
Depending on the time of day, Taft High linebacker DaShon Polk appears to be either fillet of fish or man-eater. Polk's baby face doesn't quite jibe with the feeding frenzy he conducts on Friday nights.
For years, relatives have been driving Polk crazy by pinching his cherubic cheeks. But one family member spoke well when he nicknamed Polk "Jaws."
"That's silly, man," said Polk, grinning, as usual.
It's no gaffe.
The ball is bait.
The ballcarrier, raw meat.
"It's like, he's got something of yours and you want to get it back," Polk said.
Since he arrived at Taft last season as an overgrown sophomore, Polk (6 feet 3, 195 pounds) has been the teeth of the team's defense, which has allowed an average of 164.7 yards per game, third best in the region. He has chipped the molars of many a ballcarrier.
"He can put the hurt on you," said El Camino Real co-Coach Mike Maio, whose Conquistadores (5-1) play at Taft (6-0) tonight in a key North Valley League game. "He's very aggressive, somebody to be reckoned with."
Reconnoiter and pulverize. That is Polk's pattern, his mission. Just listen to Polk, an All-City Section selection, talk about the thrill of the kill.
Hear his voice rise and fall, see his eyes narrow, his teeth glint.
His descriptions are full of more whams , bams and bops than John Madden. By way of example, listen to Polk describe the first few moments of a game:
"I can't get fired up in the locker room. Other guys are running around getting all fired up, but I can't get that excited until I touch that field.
"Then you see the lights, then you start sweating in warm-ups. Sweat starts pouring down.
"Then it's the kickoff team or kickoff return, and I'm on both teams.
"Who's gonna make the tackle?
"I'm gonna make the tackle! Bam!
"On kickoff team, I'm gonna hit somebody. I run down my lane and run somebody over. Pow! And then it's time for defense, I'm already out there after the kickoff.
"Defense, let's go baby, yeeeeeaaaah. I'm already fired up 'cause I just ran somebody over, yeeeeah. And I want to do it again. Wheeeeeeew. "
Whew is right. It should come as no great surprise when Taft Coach Troy Starr says that Polk is one player he never needs to motivate.
"His intensity is uncoachable," Starr said. "I've had a few kids like that, and you either have it or you don't."
Always had it. Always will.
Didn't always know it, though.
Polk always has been precocious, but he didn't know he was predacious until sixth grade. He'd never played football when he went out for a Pop Warner team in Pacoima, where he has lived with his grandfather for the past eight years.
He nervously put on the uniform for his first practice, eyeing his teammates to see which pads went where.
Polk, big for his age, was placed on a team with older kids.
He ambled onto the field, having not the slightest whiff of what was expected of him. Almost immediately, Polk developed a habit of running into things. Namely, running backs. He immediately put the pop in Pop Warner.
"I was scared," Polk said. "The first day, though, I rang somebody up. Coach was so happy, he came over and patted me on the helmet.
"I thought, 'Damn, I guess that's what I'm supposed to do.' "
Polk's Taft teammates can recount from memory some of his biggest belts, such as the one he laid on former Reseda quarterback John Buckley (6-3, 200) last fall. Buckley rolled out of the pocket and Polk met him head-on.
"Nasty," defensive back Dwyer McKeith said.
"Guy should have run out of bounds," linebacker Antwan Simpson said.
Buckley, later selected to the All-City team, nearly had an out-of-body experience.
"That was the hit," Polk said with a cackle. " The hit. I got it on tape.
"I watch it every week. I rewind it. Pow! I watch it in slow motion. Wheweee . It was helmet to helmet, full speed. Next thing, I saw him on his back."
When this type of thing happens, which is frequently, Polk typically spends the next few seconds gloating, giving the guy a cheerful earful.
"He wants them to know he's out there," Taft quarterback Mike Ferguson said. "He wants them to be afraid."
Polk made the switch from strong safety to inside linebacker over the summer. A few weeks ago, he was moved to outside linebacker to take advantage of his speed and blitzing ability. Quarterbacks have been added to his quarry.
In last week's 49-7 pasting of Chatsworth, Taft sacked quarterback Aaron Hummel on the first play. Hummel finished with minus-41 yards rushing and Polk racked up 2 1/2 sacks. Polk sometimes peers into the backfield and catches the quarterback casting a wary glance.
"I can see the fear," Polk said.