By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Shelby Poss is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a fifth-year senior in high school.
The Woodland linebacker struts around the field during practice and in games, unapologetically — and without hesitation — getting in his teammates’ faces, challenging them to take their intensity to another level.
Then he walks it out himself on the field.
If, when you watch Poss perform on the football field, it seems like the senior owns the place, it’s probably because he feels like he’s been around the Woodland football program long enough to justify that feeling.
“I get this confidence just for the fact that I’ve been around the varsity football team since I was in the eighth grade,” Poss said. “I’ve been around here four or five years and I’ve seen all the guys come up and come through here, and so now that it’s my turn to be a leader out here, I take that every day and get excited about here. I can’t even explain it.”
Poss’ 2014 stats, however, begin to explain what the 6-foot-1, 220 pound senior means to a Wolfpack team that went 7-3 in coach Steven Davenport’s first season, and came a play-in game short of nabbing their second playoff berth in school history.
Poss racked up over 90 total tackles in just seven games, including 44 solo stops and seven tackles for loss. He also forced a fumble and snagged a pick while continuously proving himself to be the rising heart and soul of a scrappy and aggressive Woodland defense.
Now that he’s a senior, Poss said he’s ready to stretch his team leadership gene as far as it can go.
“I feel like we have a really good team this year,” Poss said. “To be honest, I feel like we had a good team last year, but we were lacking a person to play that good leadership role. This year, that’s me. I feel like I’m 95 percent there, and five percent away from being the ultimate leader on our team.”
To grab that remaining five percent, Poss said he’s not going to allow his confidence to be mistaken for hubris. He wants to be aggressive, but not arrogant. He loves his teammates too much to be governed by a self-seeking character trait.
“I still feel like I’ve gotta earn the rest of my trust from my guys,” he said. “I’m the guy in the locker room or on fourth down who tries to be the coach on the field other than the other coaches on the sideline. Many of our defensive players have never played a varsity game before, so I feel like they can try to follow in my footsteps if I set a good example.”
For Poss, that begins Friday night at home against Salem in the first of two preseason scrimmages. The other is against potentially high powered Jonesboro. And Poss isn’t mincing words about how important he believes those two preliminary contests are to Woodland’s 2015 season.
“I feel like whatever we want to do as a team is up to us,” he said. “Those scrimmage games, man, those are gonna determine our whole season. Those are going to show us how much we learned from last year.”
When Poss speaks of last year, there’s one particularly painful teachable moment that sticks out the most — September 26, at home against Dutchtown. The Wolfpack came in riding high after its first 4-0 start in school history.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, were limping into Wolfpack Stadium on a three-game skid, including the first of two heartbreaking losses to Starr’s Mill. And Poss said the aura of over confidence afflicting the team was clearly noticeable.
“We came into that game and we were 4-0, so we were like, ‘Man, we got this. We got this,’ and then, boom! We go into that game and we got our butts whooped by Dutchtown,” he said. “It definitely taught us how we’ve got to stay humble and take nothing for granted.”
Woodland could jump out to another good start this year as they’ll begin the 2015 season with the same four opponents from last year — opponents who mustered a combined 9-25 mark in 2014. One of those teams being a Forest Park squad who will be welcoming its 10th new head coach in the last 13 seasons.
But Poss and Woodland will hope to be riding a crest of momentum come October 23 when the Wolfpack host cross-town rival Stockbridge. And as far as Poss is concerned, winning that game is about more than being mentioned in the same sentence as the Tigers when it comes to championship contenders.
“We don’t really look at it like getting on Stockbridge’s level,” he said. “Coach Davenport and Coach (Cortez) Allen), they’ve all won state championships before as coaches and players, and they’re not going to just be happy with beating Stockbridge. We won’t be happy until we’re winning championships.”
That’s why Poss isn’t shy about getting after a guy for walking and slow-jogging off the field instead of hustling, or woofing at someone to try to keep them from repeating mistakes on defense.
“To get to that level, you’ve gotta do everything right,” he said. “From a discipline standpoint, to hustle. Everything is going to add up in the game as a player. You can have a lot of leaders on your team, and everybody doesn’t have to be a vocal leader. But you need at least one. And I am the one who wants to be that vocal leader for us.
“There’s really no limit to where this team can go.”
Check out Shelby Poss’ 2014 highlight reel: