As Jimmy Stirwalt conducted an on-camera interview Tuesday at Saugus High football practice, teammates jumped around behind the camera, involved in all kinds of shenanigans.
Stirwalt, the Centurions senior middle linebacker and a second-team All-Foothill League selection in 2016, mostly brushed off the distractions, flashing a wide grin and grabbing the front collar of his shoulder pads.
It’s roughly the approach he takes if anyone gives him a hard time about being a 5-foot-6 linebacker (he’s 5-7 on a good day, he says).
“I’m always the little guy in the group,” said Stirwalt, who weighs about 180 pounds. “You have to have the confidence and the swagger. You can’t really focus on it. I’ve been small all my life so it’s something I’ve accepted at this point. Guys always make fun of you, but I don’t care. I just play my game.”
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Ever since fourth grade, Stirwalt has played with a chip on his shoulder – and thrown that shoulder into anything that moves.
“He hits harder than anyone,” said Saugus senior Tyler Hampsten, who will line up beside Stirwalt at linebacker this year.
Stirwalt began his career as a left tackle before moving to inside backer in fifth grade.
He loves that the position, by its nature, puts him in the middle of the action.
“You’re making the (defensive) calls,” he said. “You get to see everything develop, and being the inside backer you’re kind of the leader of the defense, and it’s fun to have that responsibility.”
By the time Stirwalt was a sophomore, coach Jason Bornn called him up to varsity, where the diminutive running-back-decker estimates he started half of the games.
Stirwalt took the role on full time as a junior, making 52 total tackles, second most on the team, and earning second team All-Foothill League honors.
“I love having that guy,” said quarterback Nathan Eldridge. “Ever since freshman year, it’s been fun watching him play. He’s just a ball hawk. He flies to the ball. He’ll run through a brick wall for the coach and the team.”
There’s a cerebral element to Stirwalt’s game, too, though.
“He has an insane knowledge of football,” said Saugus linebacker Gabriel Velasco.
It’s a knowledge that comes from being at the position for three years and from extra study.
At times, Stirwalt said he’s sat in on meetings meant for other position groups.
“I pride myself on knowing the whole defense, not just my position,” Stirwalt said. “Anywhere from the defensive line to the corners to the safeties, I want to know what they’re doing so when people ask, ‘What do I do on this?’ I can give them a definite answer.”
As to whether he’d like to play in college, Stirwalt’s response wasn’t as defined.
“At my size, it’s very unlikely. If I did play, it’d probably be in Division 3,” he said. “I’ll probably focus on academics, which is a biggie for me.”
He wants to study biology in hopes of becoming a doctor.
Saugus’ season starts on Aug. 26 on the road against Santa Barbara.