As Athens prepares for its biggest game of the year against Nelsonville-York, it will continue to rely on senior linebacker Tanner Tritipo to lead by example.  

Tritipo has been the life-blood of an outstanding defense this season. The defense feeds off the energy the 185-pound linebacker brings with him on Friday nights. 

“Since I play hard, I think it encourages everyone else to play hard,” Tritipo said. 

An undersized-middle linebacker in the Tri-Valley Conference must exhibit a certain edge and toughness. Tritipo was able to find that at an early age.

“It comes from growing up with an older brother,” Tritipo said. “And trying to keep up with him and his friends.” 

As the middle linebacker or “quarterback of the defense,” Tritipo has been tasked with relaying the play calls to his teammates and making sure everyone is on the same page. 

“I just try and keep everyone focused usually,” Tritipo said. “And I trust everyone to do their job.” 

In recent weeks, coach Ryan Adams has been urging someone from his team to take the next step in leadership as the team prepares for some their biggest games of the year. 

Adams found what he was looking for against Wellston on Oct. 13. 

“(Tritipo) is not a vocal leader,” Adams said. “It’s leadership by example and we do get some of that with Tanner.” 

Against Wellston, Tritipo accounted for thirteen tackles, two of which were for loss — leading his team in both categories. 

“He's taking out the shins of two offensive lineman, play after play after play,” Ryan Adams said. “And that’s not a fun thing for an undersized linebacker to do.” 

It is easier to hear a Tanner Tritipo hit than it is to see one. He brings every ounce of his body with each hit he makes. His teammates fed off of his energy against Wellston, and that carried over into the Bulldogs' blowout win at River Valley on Friday. 

“I hit people hard and that makes other people want to hit people hard,” Tritipo said. 

Tritipo has averaged 7.6 tackles per game this season, leading his team in the category. He has accounted for three sacks and forced two turnovers. 

More importantly, Tritipo has led the Bulldogs' defense to an 8-1 record that it carries into Friday night’s game against the undefeated Nelsonville-York Buckeyes. 

With a win Friday, the Bulldogs will clinch the Tri-Valley Conference title and better align themselves for a shot at the post season. 

As of now, the the top-four teams in the OHSAA Division 3, Region 11 standings have clinched a playoff berth, which leaves three spots open for Athens to sneak into the postseason. 

The Bulldogs believe there is still room to improve this weekend as they hope for a shot at the playoffs

“We’re not satisfied with where we are,” Tritipo said.