Connor Cheyunski was born to be a linebacker.
The Middle Creek senior is a third-generation player at that position, and all three are never too far away on Friday nights.
His dad, Adam Cheyunski, who played linebacker in college at Liberty, is on the sideline as an assistant coach.
His grandfather, Jim Cheyunski, 71, who played the position 10 years in the NFL with the Boston – later New England – Patriots and Baltimore Colts is also an assistant and is stationed in the pressbox.
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Genetics are helpful, but the real reason Connor has been a tackling machine this season is the knowledge that the elder Cheyunskis have passed down to him. They’ve taught him how to break down film on his opponents and recognize plays before they happen.
“Connor has got one of the best football IQs for a kid his age that I’ve ever been around in my life. You’re talking about a coach on the field, he’s our quarterback out there.” said Middle Creek head coach Randy Ragland. “He’s had a great career, and I’m here to tell you, he’s been a tremendous asset to our football program.”
The 6-1, 220-pound Connor missed four games this year with a broken arm, but is still second on the team with 84 tackles (averaging 10.4 per) for the 9-3 Mustangs, who visit Sanderson (8-3) in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA football playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
For 60 to 90 minutes each day, he watches film on his next opponent. He’s been dissecting film since his father and grandfather introduced it to him at 6.
“They taught me what to look for,” Connor said. “Formations, tendencies – then I can help my teammates out and put them in position to make plays.”
“He watches it every day, and he knows what he’s looking for, so when he goes out on the field, he’s probably 85 percent sure of where the plays are going – and he likes it,” Adam said.
On some days, he’ll test himself to see if he can guess the next play. On others, he tries to call the defense that will work best against what the offense is trying to do.
And he doesn’t watch too much film of himself from previous games.
“If you understand the game, you know quite a bit more than the average high school player does,” Adam said. “He puts a lot of time in studying, and he’s got the talent to go with it. That’s a pretty good matchup.”
Adam and Jim, both of whom have been helping coach high school football in several U.S. states, spent last year as fans.
“We were really blessed to be in the stands, sitting next to my son, watching my grandson play,” Jim said. “Can’t get any better than that.”
But in some ways, it did get better.
Ragland invited the elder Cheyunskis out this season, and both were excited to accept.
They are two of three Middle Creek assistant coaches dedicated to the linebacking corps.
“If we can just help just one kid – anybody you can help with something you said,” said Jim, whose first year in Baltimore coincided with a first-year assistant coach named Bill Belichick. “We’ve been in the coaching game a long time, so we know how important coaches are.”
Ragland said he’s enjoyed having both coaches this season.
There are some things about Connor that need little coaching when you’re a Cheyunski.
“I’ve always wanted to hit people,” he said.