Niles North’s Isaiah Tate adjusting to playing inside linebacker

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Isaiah Tate possessed all the requisite physical attributes needed to make a successful transition from defensive end as a junior to inside linebacker this year on Niles North’s football team. He’s strong, agile, a good tackler and very athletic.

However, it has taken Tate time to grow accustomed to reading his keys from his new position once the ball is snapped.

“That’s probably my hardest thing,” Tate said.

In Niles North’s defense — and in many defenses — the inside linebackers’ read is usually guard to the backfield. Put more plainly, the action of the guard — if he pulls, if he turns his shoulders a certain way, or if he pops up to pass block — often tips off linebackers regarding the type of play and where it’s going.

Keying on the guard to get to the ball sounds relatively easy in theory, but technique, footwork and reaction time are vital for inside linebackers. That’s a big reason why Tate and Mike Garoppolo, Niles North’s linebackers coach, have made making the proper reads a major point of emphasis since way back in June.

“If he can trust that he can read his keys, the rest will kind of take care of itself,” Garoppolo said. “That’s the biggest thing in high school is everyone wants to kind of do their own thing and hopefully they’ll make the play. But to be a great football player, to be a great linebacker at the high school level, is to buy in and really trust that if you read your key, you’ll find yourself in the play.”

That’s the message Garoppolo has delivered since Tate made the transition to linebacker, and Garoppolo said he saw the senior make significant improvement from the first month to the second month of the Vikings’ summer camp.

Niles North opened its season with a 49-14 win Friday over Shepard and travels to Niles West for the Skokie Skirmish on Saturday.

Tate also has tried to improve at his new position by watching tape, which he said has helped him learn the other positions in the defense — that’s one of the many other responsibilities of an inside linebacker — as well as correct his mistakes.

Playing alongside senior inside linebacker Daniel Monyongo, who’s emerged as the vocal leader of the defense and calls out which side of the offense is the strong side before the snap, also has helped his transition.

“It’s really good because he’s like my brother,” Monyongo said of the pair’s relationship. “We’ve known each other since grade school, since we were little kids. We tend to be on the same page a lot. I don’t have to say much [to him]. He knows what I’m thinking, I know what he’s thinking.”

The two have developed on-field trust among themselves this season, they said. Tate said one of Monyongo’s biggest strengths is the way he always seems to make the correct reads. Monyongo, in turn, complemented Tate’s ability to take away cut-back lanes — which is crucial given that Monyongo usually lines up at inside linebacker on the strong side.

“If I’m flowing over the top and the play is blowing up on my side — and that running back decides to do his own thing in the backfield and cut back — Isaiah’s always going to be there to help out,” Monyongo said.

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