ABSECON - Holy Spirit High School outside linebacker Dan Mastromatteo suspected teams would avoid running plays to his side of the field this season.
The senior didn't realize just how much other teams didn't want to go near him. Mastromatteo, who verbally committed in May to attend the University of North Carolina, has had to find ways to get into the mix on defense.
Spirit coach Charles Roman has moved him closer to the middle on plays and blitzed often from Mastromatteo's side. Roman is getting creative to get Mastromatteo near the ball.
"It's like a chess match out there," Roman said.
Roman and Mastromatteo's biggest task comes Friday when the Spartans (7-3) will face undefeated Camden Catholic (10-0) for the Non-Public II title at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township (Mercer County) at 7 p.m.
Holy Spirit, which is ranked 10th in The Press Elite 11, won the Non-Public III state title last season but was moved to the smaller enrollment group for this season. Camden Catholic is ranked fifth.
"They have been trying (to avoid me). It's been frustrating sometimes," Mastromatteo, of Absecon, said Monday after practice. "When they come to my side, I have to be ready. ... I just have to keep chasing after the ball and go after plays."
Spirit started the season blitzing away from Mastromatteo's side. But midway through the season, Roman said, Spirit had became too predictable. Roman has since moved Mastromatteo from one side to the other throughout games, so much so that the linebacker will look to the sideline to get direction before plays.
"We would tell him to line up based on what information we had," Roman said. "We tried to put him into situations where he could succeed. We had to get a little creative at times."
While Spirit wishes teams would challenge Mastromatteo, the Spartans have ensured the other linebackers are ready for plays to come their way.
Junior Chris Herse and senior Donta Pollock, who is better known as a running back, are the Spartans' other outside linebackers, rotating in and out for each other.
"When they try to avoid Dan's side, it gets everyone else all pumped up," Pollock, of Atlantic City, said. "It all ties into one. Everyone works together."
Spirit has had impressive linebackers over the last several years. Marcus Witherspoon, who was highly recruited, committed to Michigan in 2008. Anthony Sarao, a 2011 Spirit graduate, is a freshman linebacker at the University of Southern California.
Mastromatteo, who is 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, is in that mix of NCAA Division I recruits. He attributes the successful string of linebackers to good coaching, but Roman says luck has been part of it.
"I think we have done a good job of putting guys in positions to succeed and asking them to do things they could do," Roman said. "A lot of people would take Dan - a big, tall kid - and make him a tight end or a defensive end. But he runs really well and has a great nose for the football."
Luck won't be as much as a factor Friday. Camden Catholic has outscored opponents 345-99 this season.
The Fighting Irish have a dual-threat quarterback who will test Spirit's defense. In their Thanksgiving game against Paul VI, which Camden Catholic won 35-21, quarterback Pete Galiano was 5-for-9 passing for 132 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts.
But the Spartans feel they are ready, no matter which side the ball goes to.
"We have to fill in every gap or hole because they don't go to (Mastromatteo's) side as much," Herse, of Absecon, said. "We were kind of expecting that, but it doesn't really hurt us much because we have good players in other positions. We have to work together. That's big."
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