Speed. Versatility. Toughness. Those are the qualities that separate Hayes Pullard III from many high school linebackers.
At 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, the senior from Los Angeles Crenshaw has the quickness of a running back. He darts toward a ballcarrier while always thinking and scheming about the best way to fulfill his assignment.
His athleticism allows him to adjust and change plans at a moment's notice. And if it comes to pushing, shoving and gritting your teeth in the trenches, count him in.
"It takes a lot of intensity and a lot of heart to go head to head with the opposing running back," he said. "Sometimes they're big, sometimes they're little. But there's a lot of contact as a linebacker."
Pullard isn't hesitant about getting into collisions. It's the reason he was drawn to football, and his aggressiveness and refusal to retreat help make him a valuable defensive weapon. He had 110 tackles last season, 22 for losses.
"He is a great football player," Coach Robert Garrett said. "He's the first one here and the last one to leave. He has quick feet, good vision and has the ability to make plays."
Pullard has taken on a leadership role on and off the field for his younger brother, Joseph, a junior defensive back for the Cougars. They are the last of 10 children who were guided and inspired by their father, Hayes Pullard Jr., who died in October at 59.
"I just take all the negative energy and use it as positive energy on the field, in school," Pullard said. "He taught me everything I know. He showed me things that I'm going to need in the future . . . be able to be the man of the house, be the man on the football field, be able to show leadership all the time."
Crenshaw starts the season Friday against Lakewood as the team to beat in the City Section thanks to its many outstanding athletes. Pullard ranks with the best because he gets lot of practice trying to tackle DeAnthony Thomas, who is perhaps the premier junior running back in the Southland.
Thomas was the City champion in the 100 meters in the spring, and Pullard is grateful for the challenge the running back and sprinter provides.
"It's hard because he's fast and has sudden cuts, where you don't know where he's going," Pullard said. "If you practice on DeAnthony, you're bound to be able to tackle any running back in the nation because he's the best."
Pullard knows he's in demand because USC and UCLA are among the schools recruiting him.
Crenshaw plans to use him wherever it can this season. He played fullback some last season and is expected to get some carries at tailback this season.
But Pullard makes it clear his focus and preference is defense.
"My passion for linebacker is because on offense you're one person with the ball and you've got 11 heads flying to the ball on you," he said. "On defense, you have like your brothers running with you all to get one person. If feels good to run with the crowd as a Cougar."
Pullard is particularly excited about having his 6-3 brother beside him.
"It's scary for running backs because you have two Pullards that are very elite at linebacker and safety," he said. "I wouldn't want to be hit by us."
Wednesday: defensive backs.
This is the seventh in a series of stories on the top high school football players in the Southland by position. Today: Linebackers.
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Top 10 linebackers
Eric Sondheimer's top high school linebackers in the Southland. An expanded list is available at www.latimes.com/preps.
*--* PLAYER SCHOOL HT, WT CL. COMMENT Victor Burnett Culver 6-0, 216 Sr. Had 12 sacks last season. City Dylan Davis St. 6-0, 220 Sr. All he does is hit and Bonaventu make plays. re Garret Gilliland Orange 6-0, 210 Sr. Top defender from Trinity Lutheran League. Collin Keoshian Santa 6-2, 235 Sr. Eight-man standout is Clarita committed to BYU. Christian Hayes Pullard Crenshaw 6-1, 215 Sr. Has all the skills to be a standout. Josh Shirley Kaiser 6-4, 220 Sr. Picked up lots of scholarship offers. Zac Stout Oaks 6-2, 220 Sr. Another Brigham Young Christian commit. Donnell Welch Palm 6-2, 200 Sr. Had 16 sacks, 32 tackles Desert for losses. Cecil Whiteside Newport 6-3, 230 Sr. Cal commit has strength, Harbor athleticism. Jordan Zumwalt Edison 6-4, 220 Sr. Committed to Stanford. *--*