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THE GRIND: Lambert's Jean-Felix emerges on defense
Grind Justyn 3 102214 web
Lambert junior defensive back Justyn Jean-Felix has emerged as one of the Longhorns' top playmakers in the secondary, just like his brother, Jordyn, was last season. - photo by Micah Green

Justyn Jean-Felix revels in being the last line of defense.

The Lambert junior cornerback and lacrosse defenseman has a knack for stepping up when others need him the most.

Take, for example, last Friday night at Northview. The Longhorns, nursing a 3-0 lead with less than a minute to play, had to keep Northview out of the end zone to stay reasonably in the state playoff chase. Jean-Felix clung to his receiver as Titans quarterback DJ Pearson rolled out of the pocket and released a left-handed throw, which the 6-foot, 170-pound Jean-Felix leapt and gratefully clutched for the game-clinching interception at the Longhorn 2.

That’s not even his favorite sport. Jean-Felix’s football coach in fourth grade suggested he try lacrosse, which was just beginning to emerge, and he took to the sport immediately. Justyn knew almost from the start that he wanted to play lacrosse for as long as he could.

"I love being on defense and being able to take control," Jean-Felix, who is committed to play lacrosse at Mercer, said. "If a lacrosse game is close [in the fourth quarter] it usually comes down to defense … it’s up to us to get a stop."

And, with older brother Jordyn, who pushed Justyn and youngest brother Jaryd to keep their grades up, gone to Marist College in New York, Justyn has taken over as familial protector, of sorts.

"I keep everything under control at home," he said.

Justyn started as a freshman for Lambert’s Class AAAAAA state runner-up lacrosse team. Boys’ director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said last year that he wanted Jean-Felix to be more aggressive in his sophomore season—and Justyn was. Still, Lambert fell just short in the state championship game to Roswell.

"We’ve got to get back to the state championship and win this time," Jean-Felix said. "We’ve lost twice in a row now. It’s time to finish the job."

Jean-Felix emerged as a physical defender that punished attackers and middies with his checking ability. Improved footwork and stick skills, Justyn said, will make him a more versatile player.

Before Jean-Felix can help Lambert lacrosse try to earn that elusive state championship, though, the Longhorns have at least three more crucial football games remaining. Lambert football earned a state playoff berth last season after a slow start but exited unceremoniously in the first round.

The Longhorns have won three straight following a 1-3 start. Lambert’s first-string defense has not given up a touchdown during that stretch, dating back to a Sept. 19 loss to Alpharetta.

"In practice, coaches made it a priority for the whole defense to run to the ball full speed and everyone to be in on tackles," Jean-Felix said. "We were still trying to get people in the right spots and unsure of who we were as a team. We got on a roll the past few weeks and we’ve stayed there."

West Forsyth awaits at The Den this Friday. The Longhorns mostly bottled up Pearson, intercepting him twice, and Lambert will see a similar quarterback this week in Hampton McConnell.

Smack talk started almost as soon as the final horn sounded last Friday in Lambert’s 3-0 win and West’s 27-14 win over South Forsyth. With both teams sitting at 4-2 in Region 6-AAAAAA, Lambert-West has major playoff implications. It’s personal, too.

"We know it’s going to be a good crowd and a good team," Jean-Felix said. "Trevor [O’Brien] is going back to West looking to beat his old team. It’d be pretty great if we could help him do it."