The GRIND: Eli Orr, West Forsyth High School Football
Eli Orr started his football career as a tight end and running back, and for two years in middle school, he was a quarterback. For the past two seasons, though, the West Forsyth junior linebacker’s game has been solely defense, and that’s how he likes it.
“I prefer defense a lot more, because I can just go out and make a play,” Orr said. “(With) someone playing wide receiver, they have to rely on the quarterback. It’s up to me what I do on defense.”
Orr likes to rely on nobody but himself, but the rest of the defense certainly looks to him. As the Wolverines’ middle linebacker in their 4-3 defense, he’s entrusted with reading the offense and making calls for his teammates. And when the play comes to the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Orr, he rarely misses. He’s leading Region 5-7A this season with 97 tackles, 17 more than the next closest defender, and he’s the central piece of a Wolverines defense that has jump-started the team’s rise up the region ranks.
Last fall, West head coach Shawn Cahill’s first season at the school, Orr had the unusual status of being a full-time defensive player as a sophomore. The Wolverines put him out for their scrimmage against Creekview after Will Jones got injured, and Orr stuck. Then-defensive coordinator David Rooney somewhat simplified the team’s scheme so a young player like Orr wouldn’t get overwhelmed, but his aptitude still stuck out to the coaches.
“(When) you’ve got a kid that’s smart like that football-wise, you feel comfortable putting him out there, even over a kid who maybe has more talent but doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing,” Cahill said of Orr. “He knows everything that’s going on here.”
Orr has been given even more responsibility this season, and he’s far surpassed the 66 tackles he recorded as a sophomore. He started slowly in the Wolverines’ season opener against Camden County, but against Hewitt-Trussville, one of the top teams in Alabama, Orr was everywhere, recording 11 solo tackles and deflecting a pass. Against McCallie, in West’s final non-region matchup, Orr had a hand in 23 tackles.
Orr has been a football-only athlete for over a year now, giving up baseball after his freshman year. He might run track this spring on defensive coordinator Bill Ballard’s suggestion, though, which would be fitting given Orr’s self-identified improvements this year.
“I thought I was overthinking too much a couple times during (last) season,” Orr said. “This year, I really focus on just getting my main reads and just playing football – not thinking about it too much, playing faster and just flying around the field. I think that’s what our whole defense has done this year.”
And when the offseason hits, whether he runs track or not, Orr is headed back to the gym to prepare for the next season, which is exactly what West’s coaches want.
“I don’t have any problem with it, because I’m never getting a phone call that Eli got into any trouble,” Cahill said. “… When he tells you that, he’s not just trying to say something that sounds good. He actually just really likes working out, all the time.”