Meet Marcus Ulloth and Anthony White, two seniors on North Thurston’s football team. Quick, can you name what position they play?
Based on size alone, one might assume Ulloth, at 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, and White, at 5-9, 170, to be cornerbacks, receivers or backup tailbacks. But the pair actually play nose guard and are a key reason why the Rams are in a Class 3A state quarterfinal playoff game Saturday against University High of Spokane.
Although their combined weight barely equals that of a starting NFL lineman, the two seniors employ speed, strength and agility to give opposing offensive linemen fits – skills honed during high school wrestling seasons.
“We are quick and pretty strong for our size,” White said. “We make a good fit for (coach Rocky Patchin’s) ideal D-linemen.”
Both are varsity wrestlers at North Thurston; Ulloth wrestled at 145 pounds last season and made it to Mat Classic XXIV, the state championships. White, wrestling at 170 pounds, placed sixth at the 2A sub-district meet.
In fact, most of the North Thurston defensive linemen are wrestlers. Junior Jake Grantham, who placed fourth in the Class 2A 195-pound weight class at Mat Classic, is a starting defensive tackle, and Zack Wilson also has wrestling experience.
North Thurston has had a tradition of wrestlers in key defensive positions, and a wrestling background can be a big asset in football, especially for smaller players like Ulloth and White.
“It teaches you how to stay low and maintain leverage and utilize your quickness pretty well,” White said.
While White has been the starting nose guard all season after missing last season with a knee injury, Ulloth has gradually made the transition, coming up with clutch plays in the past two playoff games against Rainier Beach and Kennewick.
Previously, Ulloth wasn’t seeing much playing time behind starting cornerbacks Braden Rushton and Bobby Cervantes. Last month, with two-way starter and all-league selection Ryan Glendenning banged up, Ulloth got his first shot at nose guard and has been a regular on the defensive line ever since. Switching from cornerback to nose guard is uncommon, but Ulloth has made it a smooth transition.
“I was kind of excited, but at the same time I was shocked,” Ulloth said. “The bigger guys underestimated me because of being so small. I wondered how it was going to be being pushed around with the bigger guys.”
“It allowed us to put a quicker guy in that spot,” Patchin said. “When Glendenning got banged up in one game, we slid Anthony over and put Marcus in there, and he did really well.”
White said it has been impressive to see how Ulloth uses his mobility and quickness against bigger players.
“As he started to play more, I noticed he’s been doing really well,” White said. “He’s probably one of – if not the quickest – guys on our team. It’s really hard for the opposing O-linemen to block him.”
This weekend’s 3A state quarterfinal playoff against University (7-4) will be the Rams’ second in a row east of the Cascades. A victory would send the Rams (9-2) to the semifinals for the first time since 2000.
Ulloth and White, who have a chippy attitude about being smaller players, will be helping out in the trenches.
“We’ve had a few guys who have done that over the years; they’re used to playing low and down on their hands,” Patchin said. “We have a lot of wrestlers on the team, which helps us be tougher. They’re hard workers.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick