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December 29, 2010Greg Pyke hunched over and jammed his hand in the dirt, ready to defend his own end zone. It was the season opener and Pyke's Boys' Latin squad hadn't allowed St. Mary's to penetrate the red zone all day. But now St. Mary's was inside the 5-yard line, putting the Lakers' shutout bid in serious jeopardy.
On first down, the St. Mary's quarterback looked to his right and fired, making a big for six points. But Pyke, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound junior lineman whose quickness belies his size, reacted like a cat after a scurrying mouse.
Unable to penetrate the line, he stuck his two big paws skyward and knocked the pass away. But Pyke wasn't finished. He pirouetted like Warren Sapp on Dancing with the Stars, snatched his own tip out of the air and looked to pick up a few positive yards on the interception.
A few yards turned into 95. Pyke morphed into a kick returner, racing behind - and then in front of - a wedge of blockers as he sprinted down the sideline. A host of St. Mary's players tried to chase him down, but Pyke had enough gas to reach the opposite end zone.
"I've never seen anything like it before," said Boys' Latin senior defensive end Marco Jones, a Virginia-bound recruit who has made his share of remarkable plays. "He caught the ball for one, but then he out-raced his own blockers all the way down the field. For a guy that size, man, it was unbelievable,"
Pyke, a self-described happy-go-luck goofball, laughs when asked about that play. Evidently Jones sold him a little short, too - he forgot to mention the earlier interception he made.
"You know, it's not often that a D-lineman gets one pick, much less two," Pyke said, chuckling. "The first one I reached up and caught it, but that second one was just a lucky catch.
"But after I brought it in I knew I'd probably never get another chance like that in my life," Pyke continued. "So I ran like hell. I picked up some blockers and no one touched me. It was fun."
The play served as a microcosm of Pyke's vast array of talents, which aren't limited to the gridiron.
On the basketball court he's nimble enough to play guard, although his size and strength are better suited in the post. And unlike many 300 pounders, he's the exception to the rule "big men can't jump." Pyke's been known to drive the lane, sky above the rim and stuff it like some oversized Lebron James.
On the lacrosse pitch he has the speed and stamina to start at attackman for the Boys' Latin varsity. What's more, he can see the whole field, find cutters and anticipate openings. Considering the Lakers' are usually ranked among the top five lacrosse teams in Maryland, that's no small feat.
With that in mind, it's not such a surprise that Pyke was able to sprint 95 yards for a touchdown.
"He's a freak of an athlete," said Boys' Latin coach Richie Schell. "He's a two-way lineman who never comes off the field, even though he's 300 pounds. His flexibility is unbelievable, he moves like a gazelle and he's got great hand-eye coordination. And he's so strong, he eats up blocks. He blocks with a mean streak."
For all Pyke's talents, his blocking on the football field surpasses everything he does on the hardwood and in the crease. Scouts and coaches alike rave about his versatility, athleticism and size.
And his tenacity. Especially his tenacity.
Case in point: The St. Paul's game in Week 9. On one particular running play, Pyke, who was playing left tackle, fired off the ball and flattened a defensive tackle. Then he moved to the second level and mowed down a linebacker. Not satisfied, Pyke got to the third level and practically de-cleated a safety.
"He's a very different type of athlete; he's something special," Jones said. "It's crazy -- he can move like a defensive end, but he's as strong as an interior offensive lineman. I have to go up against him in practice and he can push me off the ball sometimes."
Which brings up an interesting, if not touchy, question. Who's better - Jones, the primetime defensive end, or Pyke, the mauling left tackle?
"Marco is a great player; he's quicker than me," Pyke said, "but I'll say I'm a better prospect."
"Definitely not," Jones responded, laughing. "He has the potential, but not yet."
It's a friendly back-and-forth banter between friends, but Jones is right in one respect: Pyke is still a raw prospect. Schell notes how Pyke still tends to come up out of his blocks too soon and his strength isn't ideal for Division-I college football - yet.
"Everything can improve," Pyke said. "When I went down to Alabama for a camp, the coaches there stressed technique, technique, technique. They told me that smaller guys could take down a huge guy by getting under your pads. So I've been working on staying on the ball, getting off blocks and not coming out of my stance, which is a problem when I get tired."
Of course, no elite athlete is ever satisfied, which is why Pyke is more apt to talk about his weaknesses then his strengths.
But it's quite clear he'll be lighting up defensive tackles on Saturday's in 2012. Pyke received his first offer from Maryland before his sophomore season was over. He just recently landed another verbal from Virginia, and schools like Alabama, Penn State and Ohio State are on the verge of offering.
"It's mind-blowing," Pyke said. "I don't think Coach Schell could have seen this coming a decade ago. Two D-I players at a lacrosse school? Unheard of."
Yes, it is an anomaly for a school that routinely churns out D-I lacrosse players to have two straight upper-tier football players. So after watching Jones become one of the top defensive players in Maryland, what can Schell possibly expect out of Pyke?
"Greg's going to be better," said Schell, who opted against the democratic answer. "Marco's a great player, but Greg's an NFL prospect. He's going to blow up at the next level. I'll never have a kid like this again."