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Jimenez rushes into spotlight

North Medford senior linebacker makes his mark as Tornado's top tackler and a special-teams stalwart

Brian Jimenez has been in the shadows of more celebrated teammates the past two seasons.

Now, the secret is out: the North Medford senior linebacker is one of the best players in the Southern Oregon Conference, if not the state.

Jimenez amassed an eye-catching 22 tackles during a 33-0 victory over Eagle Point on Oct. 17 and followed up with 14 tackles during the Black Tornado's 34-14 win over Roseburg last Friday.

— But the two plays that caught everyone's attention were his two blocked punts against the Indians. One set up a touchdown run by North Medford quarterback Beau Hovland; the other was returned for a score by Ben Running.

Brian is our emotional leader on defense, North Medford coach John Beck says. And he's got a motor that never quits.

Jimenez earned second-team all-conference honors last season, but he was often overshadowed by first-team all-conference lineman David Faaeteete and first-team all-conference linebacker Rob Folsom.

Faaeteete and Folsom have continued to create havoc for a Tornado defense that is yielding just 211 yards and 13.6 points per game. But it is Jimenez who leads the team in tackles at more than 12 per contest.

Exceptionally fast for his size ' the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder has run the 40 in 4.7 seconds ' Jimenez can run down opposing backs or stop them in their tracks with his strength.

Playing linebacker is all about intensity and heart, and then just reading the play and flying to the ball, Jimenez says.

Jimenez admits he likes to flap his jaw while on the field, but most of his talking is directed toward his teammates or himself.

Mostly, I'm just yelling to our guys what play I think is coming, he says. I might see a running back lean a certain way or read his eyes and know what's coming.

Jimenez used his intuitiveness to block both punts against Roseburg.

On the first one, he started from the left edge but looped to the inside and smothered the ball before Roseburg punter Kyle Loomis could get it off.

Ben Running lined up inside of me, but he went to the outside and I cut in, Jimenez says. I came through untouched.

On the second block, Jimenez failed to get his hands on the ball. Instead, he shoved one of the Roseburg blockers into Loomis, causing the punt to go nearly straight into the air. It trickled a few yards upfield, where Running caught it on a bounce and ran 28 yards to pay dirt.

The guy trying to block me was their quarterback, says Jimenez, who also blocked two punts as a junior. I blew right through him. You can't have your quarterback trying to stop edge heat. That's not going to work.

Jimenez admits his job at linebacker is made easier by the Tornado's dominant front line that includes not only Faaeteete, but also 262-pound Lorenzo Arenas and 296-pound Johnny Vaigafa.

I don't see blockers getting to the second level very often, Jimenez says. Those guys on the 'D' line mess things up, and that gives me the freedom to roam around.

Although Jimenez has plenty of room to put on weight ' he looks skinny without his uniform ' most major college teams have shied away because right now he's built more like a defensive back than a linebacker.

But Portland State, a Division 1-AA team, has developed interest, and other schools are sure to follow.

The secret, after all, is out.

North Medford?s Brian Jimenez helped the Black Tornado defeat Roseburg, 34-14, last week with two blocked punts and 14 tackles. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven