That’s how Gig Harbor High School football coach Aaron Chantler describes Clay Markoff.
One of Olympia’s linebackers, Markoff (5 feet 10, 235 pounds), is also strategic and elusive, which has made him a point of interest for Chantler preceding Friday’s battle of unbeatens.
The No. 6 Bears (6-0, 3-0 Class 4A Narrows) clash with the No. 3 Tides (6-0, 3-0) at 7 p.m. at Ingersoll Stadium.
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“We know Olympia is going to bring pressure, but with him, it’s harder to predict because he doesn’t show it,” Chantler said.
What makes Markoff so effective is disguise.
Chantler said he sees plenty of opposing teams’ linebackers dancing back and forth around the line of scrimmage — which gives the quarterback a good idea of what’s coming.
But Markoff doesn’t do that.
“Clay does a good job of being able to hide it,” Chantler said. “He’s good at timing snap counts, and shooting gaps when they pop up to blitz.”
Markoff, a senior, pays particular attention to snap counts. He said he often looks for nuances or patterns while watching film or during games — whether it’s a swaying stance or a clap — to predict a quarterback’s cadence.
“Later in the game, I get better and better at anticipating when he’s going to hike it,” Markoff said. “I’m just listening for his cues.”
He has 43 solo tackles to lead the Bears this season — 12 tackles for negative yardage.
“I just kind of stand there and act like I’m doing my regular thing, and I just run and find a hole as quick as I can,” Markoff said. “That’s something I started doing last season, and it really helps getting to the quarterback as quick as possible.”
And when he does get to the backfield, it often ends with the quarterback on the ground. Markoff has recorded six sacks.
“Obviously, he’s a very strong kid, and I think that helps him when he catches them off guard,” Olympia coach Bill Beattie said. “He has this strength to barrel through there.”
Some of Markoff’s tackling proficiency comes from the two years of varsity experience, but some of it comes from the other contact sport he plays — rugby.
Markoff, who plays club rugby for Budd Bay — typically January through April, during the football offseason — started playing in the eighth grade.
“It helps a lot with tackling and open-field running,” Markoff said. “Everyone has to run the ball and tackle in rugby.”
However, the nature of tackling varies. In rugby, Markoff said he focuses on putting his shoulder straight into an opponent’s hip and forcing him to the ground.
“In rugby, you can’t tackle like you do in football,” Markoff said. “You don’t have pads, so what they teach us to do with rugby is use their momentum against them and get low.”
It’s a tactic Olympia has started to adopt for its defensive scheme. Beattie said the team has spent time the last two seasons watching the instructional tackling videos that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll released in 2014.
The videos are intended to take the head out of play and increase safety, but not eliminate the physicality of the game.
“(We’ve been) trying to be very good at using that same type of technique for our guys, which has been nice because we don’t have as many missed tackles and as many guys going high as in the past,” Beattie said.
Which is where Markoff’s rugby experience pays off.
Markoff said he’s seen a marked improvement in his own performance since he started playing both sports.
And, this season in particular, it has helped him to become Olympia’s leading tackler.
“I think because he’s experienced — he’s obviously played varsity for a couple years — he knows the heart and soul of the defense, the ins and outs,” Chantler said.
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SCOUTING THE TIDES
Peninsula Gateway sports reporter Jon Manley previews Olympia’s Friday showdown against third-ranked Gig Harbor.
Q: Davis Alexander is one of the quickest, most versatile QBs in the state. What does Olympia need to do to shut him down?
A: It will be a big challenge. I talked to a Narrows 4A assistant recently and he told me that Davis keeps them up at night. He’s really difficult to game plan for because he does everything so well. He’s an accurate passer, he makes all the throws and he can hit holes quickly on the read option. But what makes him so difficult to defend is his ability to make something out of nothing. He scrambles a lot like Russell Wilson — you think he’s down in the backfield and then, BOOM, 30-yard run. The best bet to limit his effectiveness would be to keep him in the pocket and limit his scrambling. Even then, it’ll be tough.
Q: The line seems to be the unsung hero of the Gig Harbor offense. How will it handle Olympia’s defense, which applies a lot of pressure in the backfield?
A: They’re very solid up front. Gig Harbor has a long history of having solid offensive lines. They pass and run block well. If they can run block well early, everything else should open up for Davis and the receivers. Gig Harbor’s fast tempo also aids their blocking. The Tides have started a little slowly in a few games, but once they figure things out, the offensive line tends to dominate.
Q: Kyle Olson-Urbon has exploded the last couple of games. What does he add to this already dynamic offense? Who else should Olympia be keyed in on?
A: He transferred from rival Peninsula and any questions I had about how quickly he would adjust to a new system are now gone. He’s very fast, explosive, runs routes well and has quickly established a big-play rapport with Davis Alexander. The problem is, defenses can’t really key on him because the Tides have threats all over the field. Senior receiver Cory Condon has enjoyed a breakout year and senior slot receiver Noah Samsen was the 2014 Narrows 4A offensive MVP, so Alexander has so many different weapons. It makes it really tough on defensive coordinators.
Q: Gig Harbor has put up the most points of any Class 4A team this season. It has also allowed the fewest. Where can Olympia find an advantage?
A: There aren’t any glaring areas of weaknesses on the (Gig Harbor) team. The offense is led by a veteran quarterback, offensive line, running back and receivers, many of whom are dynamic players. What stands out to me about the defense is the speed. Again, they’re solid up front, and that allows senior linebacker Alex Bouterse, senior strong safety Kale Wong and others to play fast. If there’s any potential weakness — in last year’s state tournament loss to Graham-Kapowsin, the Tides were gashed on the ground (that’s also was due to GK’s monster O-line). Olympia may have had some success running the ball, but it sounds like it will be tougher now with star junior running back Scott Gunther sidelined with an injury.
Q: Gig Harbor hasn’t put up less than 40 points on a Friday night yet, but Olympia’s never allowed more than 25. Which side gives?
A: I think Gig Harbor will pass the 25-point mark. Earlier this year, Gig Harbor played host to the then-No. 7 Eastlake Wolves. I predicted a close game. Gig Harbor won, 40-6. Until they show me otherwise, I’m going to assume this offense will put up a lot of points every week.
Q: What’s your pick?
A: No. 3 Gig Harbor 42, No. 6 Olympia 17. I think the Tides are a legitimate state title contender. They’re dynamic, explosive and have no big areas of weakness. Without Olympia running back Scott Gunther, I think the Bears may have a tough time getting it going.