Alex Vormelker couldn’t help himself as a scout team linebacker last season. Bulldozer Jacob Campbell, the most physically imposing fullback in Black River history, was barreling directly into Vormelker’s path.
Fearless to a fault, Vormelker collided with Campbell helmet to helmet. The resulting concussion knocked Vormelker out of action for most of the season but sent a clear message that he will never back down.
“He’s the baddest (dude) on the team,” strong safety Justin Zacharyasz said bluntly, though linemen Jeff Owen and Mitchell Young might have something to say about that.
All arguments aside, Vormelker is healthier and feistier than ever as the third-seeded Pirates (10-1) square off with No. 7 Wickliffe (8-3) at 7:30 tonight in a Division V, Region 17, semifinal at North Ridgeville.
“I just love the sport, love banging heads, love the camaraderie, you know?” Vormelker said. “Being out here with all the guys all the time, it’s great.
“I play crazy. I like feeding off the crowd’s energy and feeding off the guys. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
The best way to describe Vormelker is intense. The junior has the old-school competitive fire and obsession with physicality that is slowly being removed to the game due to rule changes and spread offenses. He simply doesn’t care who gets in the way because eat or be eaten is his philosophy.
Playing as a 3-4 inside linebacker, the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder is what Zacharyasz calls a “freight train” with a leather-seeking missile aboard. No ball carrier is safe when No. 27 has him in is sights.
Leading a first-team defense that has allowed only 11 touchdowns is proof of that.
“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and momentum,” 28th-year coach Al Young said. “I like that. You’ve got to have that, kids who get excited.”
Despite missing a blowout of Brookside with a minor injury, Vormelker leads the team with 95 tackles, including 14ﾽ for loss and two forced fumbles. He also has an interception.
Those are fine statistics on the surface, but digging deeper reveals more. Against the top three teams Black River has faced — Buckeye, Firelands and Gilmour Academy — Vormelker has 31 tackles, nine for loss.
Bigger stakes and bigger offensive linemen bring out the best in “A.V.”
“Flying around has a lot to do with everything,” the Spencer resident said. “Speed kills, as they say. I’m not that big, but I’ll meet you at the spot and if I know what you’re going to be doing, nine times out of 10 it’s going to be working in my favor.”
Last week in a 44-13 pasting of Gilmour, Vormelker had 13 tackles, including 4ﾽ for loss, while meeting the I-formation fullback head on multiple times so teammates could make the play.
Vormelker’s first tackle for loss was from his knee after a run blitz despite getting knocked down by a guard, while the second came on an ankle tackle for a 5-yard loss on a jet sweep. He also had tackles for loss on a jet sweep and an I-formation tailback counter in the second half.
The half-tackle for loss was one of the plays of the game. With Black River leading 14-7 late in the first half, Vormelker and outside linebacker Spencer Constable snuffed out a fourth-down screen and Vormelker’s square-on hit led to a fumble recovered by Owen on the Black River 33-yard line.
“It’s about being prepared and knowing what’s coming,” he said. “I watch film every day on Hudl(.com).”
The Pirates will face an interesting challenge tonight. Like Black River, Wickliffe runs a double wing-T out of the pistol and features speedy athletes Isaac Pettway and Nick Fenton at fullback and wingback/quarterback, respectively.
Vormelker acknowledged there was an adjustment period this week during practice — “We were laughing and saying, ‘Wow, I wonder if it’s this hard to stop our offense,”’ he joked — but those fears were quickly put to rest.
Vormelker will do what he always does: Hit hard, hit often and hit like there’s no tomorrow.
“This is roughneck, hit-’em-hard, grind-it-out type of football,” he said. “It’s what I like to do.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.