By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
Around the midway point of the regular season, Amsterdam High School junior football player Devin Rosario had a one-on-one meeting with head coach Doug Edick and asked for a chance to get on the field with the first team a little more.
"I talked to Coach, and I was like, 'I just want to get on the field. It doesn't matter if it's offense or defense,'" Rosario said.
"I said, 'Listen, Devin. You're doing all the right things. Just keep working and you will be on the field," the first-year head coach said.
It was a couple of weeks later, during the Rams' Week 5 loss to Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, when the process was accelerated. In the first half of that game, a 33-14 loss, senior middle linebacker and team captain Gabe Orengo went down with a knee injury that's kept him sidelined ever since.
Though not under the circumstances he would've liked, Rosario had his chance.
"Gabe, it's sad that he had to go down like that," he said.
Plugged into the heart of Edick's 4-3 defensive scheme, Rosario got his first start of the season the next week against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in a week that coincided with numerous changes throughout the Amsterdam defense. The linebacking corps, which had previously featured Orengo, senior captain Isiah Martin and junior Kolbie Glionna, now featured Rosario in the middle flanked by Glionna and senior captain Geo Rodriguez.
It took a little while for the adjustments to take shape -- Burnt Hills scored on its first three offensive series that week to open up a 19-0 lead -- but since then, the three linebackers have felt a growing chemistry as a unit.
"We gave up those points to Burnt Hills in the beginning, but once we started meshing, our defense has been on point," Glionna said.
While Edick gives plenty of credit for Amsterdam's defensive resurgence to the play of both Glionna -- a consistent performer all season -- and Rodriguez -- a star at linebacker in 2011 who began this season at safety -- he's quick to give Rosario praise for stepping in when he was needed and taking over the pressure-packed middle linebacker spot with aplomb.
"Gabe went out with a knee injury, so we plugged in Devin. We knew he was a good player," Edick said.
Edick's been confident in Rosario's ability since preseason camp, praising the junior linebacker's play since August, especially for his ability to mentally process what can be a difficult spot to play in the middle that includes plenty of playcalling respnsbility in the huddle.
"He's very consistent," Edick said. "He's a heady player, very smart. He does a good job, he fills in nice."
Rosario credits the success of the trio -- which has helped spearhead and Amsterdam first-team defense that has only allowed three touchdowns in the past three games, two coming when the defense was faced with a short field -- with the rapport that they've developed together.
"We make a good linebacker team," he said. "We communicate with each other. Me and Geo are always talking on the sideline."
Also serving as the Rams' starting quarterback, Rodriguez knows he can be a target on the field for opposing blockers. But, as the Rams' leading defensive player with a team-high 94 tackles and three interceptions, he also knows that opposing offenses don't necessarily want to run right at him.
That's where his trust in Glionna and Rosario comes in.
"Devin and Kolbie, they're juniors and they stepped up right when we needed them to," Rodriguez said. "I depend on them a lot to make plays when teams go away from me. I have trust in Devin and Kolbie. They're real good hitters and they step up to the ball when we need to."
Glionna takes particular pride in the fact that the Rams' linebacker trio has succeeded despite a noticeable lack of size. None of the three are taller than 5-foot-10, but as the smallest of the lot at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, Glionna is more than happy to show Amsterdam's opponents that linebackers don't need to be big and brawny to pack a wallop.
"Just because you're small, it doesn't mean you can't play," he said. "We're probably the smallest group of linebackers in the section, but we've been playing great."