Through the first four games of the 2010 season, Wildcats defensive end Eric Hedin has seemingly done it all.
Leading the club with 31 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and six sacks, the senior from Silverdale, Wash., has become the heart of the Linfield defense. Towering over opponents at 6-foot-7, Hedin's physical gifts have blossomed over a four-year span that has seen the defensive lineman develop every step of the way.
While the natural athletic ability and potential have always been there for Hedin, the tools to play defensive line at the collegiate level needed time to grow over his first two seasons. Fine-tuning his skills into a finished product has allowed Hedin to use his height as a weapon.
"When I first got here it was very difficult to keep my pad level low enough to play," recalls Hedin of the initial challenges of being a taller player. "Especially when I was younger, I had trouble with all the cut blocks. Now that I have had some time under my belt, it is easier for me to have vision of what is going on in the backfield while still being able to read my block."
After working with the scout team as a freshman and seeing action in eight games as a sophomore in 2008, Hedin flourished as a starter in 2009, playing in 12 games and leading the 'Cats in tackles for loss and sacks.
His achievements earned him second team all-Northwest Conference honors and validated the growth he had made in two seasons. For defensive coordinator Jackson Vaughan, Hedin's skill set allows him to be a dynamic playmaker.
"Eric's greatest assets as a push rusher are his determination, toughness, and length," notes Vaughan. "At 6-7, Eric has the height and arm length that make it very easy for him to find the football as well as get off blocks. You combine those physical assets with his great determination and toughness and you have a guy who can make a ton of plays for you on defense."
That determination and toughness took little time off during the offseason. Fresh off a loss in the national semifinal, Hedin started building for his senior year, using the ensuing months to improve his strength and knowledge of the system.
"I think a lot of it has to do with just being another year older and having a better understanding of what Coach Vaughan expects of us defensively," notes Hedin of his on-field success. "Another big part of it was the offseason training. I worked out a lot more than I have in years past. It's really helped me get off blocks a lot easier and put myself in position to make plays.
While Hedin's most notable plays are the sacks he picks up each game, it is the constant pressure on the quarterback that serves Vaughan's defense most.
"The effect of a great pass rusher on a game can be immense," says Vaughan. "A large majority of the time a sack is nearly as good as a turnover because it is a big loss for the offense and forces them into a punting situation. Having a great pass rush also has a tremendous impact on the opposing team's quarterback because they now become aware of the rush, are uncomfortable in the pocket, and their downfield vision is drastically diminished."
Looking to dominate the line of scrimmage and create that pressure on the quarterback, Hedin understands his duty impacts the way the Wildcats craft their defensive schemes.
"I definitely feel that responsibility," comments Hedin on his job to create pressure. "As a group, if the defensive line can get good pressure then that allows us to run different converges and blitzes."
If the old cliché is true that defense wins championships, the 'Cats have found an identity that could have them playing in late November and into December.
Following an early season loss at the hands of Cal Lutheran, a game in which the Wildcats surrendered 47 points and 425 yards of total offense, Hedin and the Wildcats have gotten back to a more focused approach.
"At the beginning of the season we gave up a lot of points," recalls Hedin. "In retrospect, I think that was pretty good for us. It was a huge eye-opener and it was time to step it up."
"Everyone had this idea that we were going to run through people without having to do anything. From there everyone at every position has gotten better and become more focused. It seems like we finally have our attitude back and we want to keep that rolling."
In order to keep the momentum rolling for a defense that has allowed just an average of eight points per game over the last three contests, the 'Cats have to ride the intensity and leadership of Hedin.
"I've been very impressed with Eric's development over the last few years," says Vaughan. "His biggest development has been with his relentless attitude and attack mentality on the field. I'm very proud of his development as a leader on defense. He is one of our toughest players and hardest workers, which sets a great example for teammates to follow."
The word most associated with Hedin is growth. Nearing the second-half of his senior season, Hedin has developed in the typical fashion most Linfield players do.
It is a process that he has welcomed and valued over his four seasons.
"This program is great with that," explains Hedin, on Linfield's ability to develop hard-working players. "Almost every guy starts on scout team and works their way up. As long as you have a desire to work and constantly be learning, then this program is perfect for guys being able to move up. Everyone pays their dues."
Hedin has paid his dues and is now reaping the benefits one sack and one big play at a time.
- Eric Evenson '11
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128