Nottingham’s Jerry Andaluz serves as the leader of the Northstars’ defense. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

Jerry Andaluz is a modest 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, which he knows is not the biggest proportions around for a high school linebacker.

But the Nottingham High senior also knows a few things about what’s important to his position; such as driving into a ball carrier with hard-churning legs; and correctly anticipating what the opposing offense is going to do.

He has made an art of that during his four years with the Northstars; earning West Jersey Football League All-Division honors last year and coming back as the leader of the Northstars defense this season.

“He means everything to us,” Stars defensive coordinator Milo McGuire said. “He knows what he is. He’s been a captain since he’s been a junior, he knows how important he is to this program.”

Andaluz played freshman football in ninth grade, rotated in on the varsity as a sophomore and had a breakout junior year by averaging 12 tackles per game.

“He’s just a great player,” head coach Jon Adams said. “He was one of the best linebackers in the league last year and he’s just been outstanding this season. We had him at the weakside last year and coaches and reporters would rave about him after the games. When you’re watching the film it’s easy to see the kid can play. He goes to the ball and goes to it well. And we’ve been able to rely on his leadership.”

‘It helps a lot having Jerry on my side… When I first started, he was my mentor, basically teaching me the plays, telling me where to go. He’s a very good reader.’

During his sophomore year, Andaluz looked to Kier Jenkins as a role model for playing linebacker. One of the first things he learned was, the body doesn’t have to be massive in order to get some oomph behind it.

“I spend hours and hours in the weight room,” he said. “As soon as wrestling ends I’m in the weight room because I know I have to get real strong to go against big guys. I really focused on my legs, that’s where the power comes from. Since I was a sophomore, I knew that if I had power I was gonna be fine against any big guys.”

More importantly, Andaluz paid attention to the mental aspect of the game. McGuire feels that helps just as much when it comes to making tackles. Asked how Andaluz makes up for lack of size, the coach said, “Being at the right place at the right time. In all sports if you know what the opponent is gonna do before they do it and you get there before they do, you’re in the right spot. Now you just gotta execute the play.”

Andaluz has become an expert at that.

“He can tell you what they’re gonna do before they do it,” McGuire said. “Sometimes when I call the blitz he doesn’t like it because he knows what they’re gonna do. So it’s good to have a player like that out there.”

The fact Andaluz has such instincts is impressive, considering that his first year of organized football was not until eighth grade when he played for the Pop Warner Hamilton Revolution. With his single mom forced working hard to support the family, she was unable to provide transportation to rec games due to work commitments.

“I used to play with my friends in the backyard,” Andaluz said. “I used to throw the ball around. But I never really played anything big. I would just toss the ball around until I got to eighth grade, and I kind of fell in love with it.”

He entered Nottingham ready to prove himself, and thought he was going to get called up to the JV toward the end of the season, but another linebacker got the call.

“They moved the wrong person up,” Andaluz said with a laugh. “I used that as motivation my sophomore year. I made it my goal to be a big playmaker and I did that.”

It took a while, however, as Andaluz began to realize there was more to playing defense then just running around hitting people. Under the tutelage of Jenkins and linebackers coach John Berei, Jerry began to understand what it took to make his reads in order to gain an advantage.

“They told me to just slow down everything,” Andaluz said. “They said to go slowly and just try and get a feeling for it. Now I know when the quarterback is gonna throw the ball. I automatically know, just from so much experience of me being able to read the line. I know the way a lineman’s feet set up. The way he’s lining up, that really helps my reads.”

McGuire calls Andaluz “cerebral.”

“That’s the great part about him,” the coach said. “He’s a general on and off the field. He knows how to play the defense and he knows what they’re gonna do on offense. It’s easy to coach a guy like that because he’s always gonna be in the right position.”

Andaluz started this season playing on the outside but, after a 30-0 loss to Trenton High, he was moved back to the inside due to his ability to make the reads.

“It made sense to put me inside to help everyone else out,” he said. “Some other guys don’t have as much experience making those reads so they struggle inside. I just try my best to help them understand what I do. Especially when you lose such a big player like Kier, you have to help them think like Kier.”

Andaluz has made an impact on at least one player. Diontae Nicholson became a record-setting rusher for the Northstars during his first two years on varsity. Now a junior, he has been moved back to his natural position of outside linebacker as his touches on offense have decreased.

Nicholson knew the position from playing it in Pop Warner, but needed to know more at the high school level.

“It helps a lot having Jerry on my side,” Nicholson said. “I just know he’s going to help me. He’s gonna make sure I’m good. He checks up on me in between plays. When I first started, he was my mentor, basically teaching me the plays, telling me where to go. He’s a very good reader.

“We’re feeding off each other now. Sometimes I might see stuff he doesn’t see, and he might see stuff I don’t see. So it goes hand in hand. We have a mutual communication. It’s just chill, working off each other.”

Andaluz said his motives for helping the younger linebackers are two-fold.

“I’m just trying to help these guys, not just because of winning the game, but it’s my senior year, I’m gonna be gone,” he said. “I want these guys to hold it down at linebacker. I think we have the best linebackers around.”

Andaluz is hoping to wrestle in college, although McGuire feels he has the ability to play college football. It certainly looks like he can. Since he was moved inside, Andaluz was all over the place during the Northstars 5-1 start to the season.

“I’m basically playing both sides of the ball; I could go left, I could go right,” he said. “I’m really mobile when it comes to that. I really like how I can attack a lot more. They can blitz me, put me in pass coverage. Whatever they need that’s what I’m going with. I just like how you can move me around to other places and it will help me get to the ball to make plays.”

With his ability to make reads, he’s usually there to meet the ball when it arrives.