Linebacker DeMarcus Blackmon sizes up nicely

The names are few: Pago Tagofau, H.B. Blades, Marcus Buggs. They are current NFL linebackers who stand under six feet. Such heights are not prototypical for the linebacker position, yet these players have earned a spot at the highest level of professional football.

Five-foot-8, 220-pound DeMarcus Blackmon sees himself competing at that level. For the second straight year, he is the starting middle linebacker for Santa Monica College football's defense.

Blackmon, because of his size, was not expected by many to be a standout player, or even a first stringer on a college team. But, through an unshakable spirit and hard-nosed determination, he has established himself as a star player in the Pacific Conference and has won the respect of coaches and teammates.

"He's physical for his size, and has good instincts. He knows how to read offenses, read the line of scrimmage," said linebackers coach Lee Lowe.

Playing middle linebacker, or "Mike," is no walk on the beach. It is the most important position on the opposite side of the ball; it requires proper reads, calling audibles, and anchoring the defense.

"[Linebackers] are the captains of the defense," said Head Coach Gifford Lindheim. "They have to run like defensive backs and be physical like defensive linemen."

Blackmon relishes the opportunity. He is social by nature, and seems to slide into the role of being a leader without much adjustment.

Aside from his on-field play, Blackmon has acquired a reputation amongst teammates for being tough, and has made sure to bring some substance to his vocal personality.

"He walks the walk out there. He's our version of London Fletcher," said Lindheim, referring to the Washington Redskins' inside linebacker.

On a recent night after practice, sitting outside the SMC Pavilion, Blackmon, a stocky 20-year-old with an easy smile, mentions that where he's from, it was either football or basketball.

"In the south, in Sunnyside, you either pick one or the other."

Blackmon is a native of Sunnyside, Houston, Texas: a small, city south of downtown Houston.

At eight, Blackmon began playing in youth football leagues. By the time he was in fifth grade, while playing for the Southwestern Rangers, he had been smitten by the sport and decided football was going to be a long-term career goal.

Then, one day, tragedy struck. While a freshman at Madison High School, one of Blackmon's confidants since childhood, and a fellow football junkie, Justin Burrell, was killed by a drunk driver. The loss was so difficult for Blackmon that he seriously considered giving up football. He wasn't sure he had the passion for it.

"I wanted to quit," said Blackmon. "But my mom, she encouraged me and told me, ‘keep going.' She was very supportive of me. Made it to all my games. She's someone I can talk to about pretty much anything."

After conversations with family friend and former Los Angeles Raiders receiver, Darryll Hobbs, Blackmon decided on transferring to Santa Monica College.

"The history of the school, with players like Steve Smith, Chad Ochocinco, is what made me want to come here," said Blackmon.

In 2009, after arriving at SMC, Blackmon impressed the coaching staff with his eye-opening ability and consistent work ethic; before the start of the season he was penciled in to be the quarterback of the defense.

When asked, there are various reasons people give for playing football: the physicality of the sport; the cerebral strategy and undeniable teamwork required to be successful. But for DeMarcus Blackmon, his main motivation is his three-year-old son, DeMarcus Blackmon, Jr. One of his desires is to provide a better life for his son by playing professionally.

"It gives me a different mentality. When I'm out there practicing, before games, he's on my mind," said Blackmon. "It gives me a fire on the inside."

Shorter linebackers like Blackmon are often vying to prove themselves out on the gridiron. For Blackmon however, he's made it clear that it is indeed not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.