Even at the high-school level, the average defensive lineman weighs more than 200 pounds.
But being undersized hasn’t stopped Manhattan High’s Henry Bieber, who stands at 6-feet tall and weighs 185 pounds as a defensive end for the Indians.
Facing larger, but oftentimes slower offensive linemen, Bieber has used his superior athleticism to become a difference maker on the Manhattan defensive line. The Indians take on Highland Park tonight at 7 p.m. at Hummer Sports Park in Topeka.
“Henry’s an extremely explosive athlete,” Manhattan coach Joe Schartz said. “He’s done a fantastic job in the weight room and Henry is an excellent hand cleaner in the weight room. As a 180-pounder, he’s cleaning 325 pounds. So that shows right there how explosive he is. Henry’s also very fast. He runs a 4.5 40 (yard dash), so he’s a strong athlete and an explosive athlete.”
With the size and speed more suited for a safety, which is where he played a year ago, Bieber has been good at pursuing the quarterback and making hits in the backfield. He and his teammates have brought a game-changing amount of pressure against opposing offenses that have led to a positive turnover margin, despite many times facing a size mismatch on the line.
“He uses his athletic ability to match up with those guys, and we’ve seen that all through the summer and so far this season,” Schartz said. “The guy can have 100 pounds on him, and it really doesn’t make a difference. Henry just battles and finds a way to get the job done.”
The senior is also in the mix at running back, sharing the duties with Chris Martin and Jacob Harden, though Schartz said he expects to use Bieber more.
“He’s hard to bring down,” Schartz said. “He will definitely break tackles and get extra yards, and we’ll need more from him from the running back spot as the season goes along.”
When asked what style of runner he is, Bieber said he’s got more of a power-runner mentality.
“I’d say I play a little more of a fullback type,” he said. “But I still have the speed to get to the edge or power through the line, either way.”
This season, most of his adjustments have come on defense. Bieber said the transition from safety to defensive end has been smooth, though it hasn’t been easy.
“At first, it was a challenge,” Bieber said. “There was a lot more fight going on and I had a totally different role to play. Usually you’re back there, but now you’re up on the line, it’s a whole new game. But you get used to it and you start learning how to play differently.”
While a player with an obvious speed advantage might opt to go around larger linemen, Bieber wants no part of that. He prefers to wear down his opponent.
“I don’t really go around them,” he said. “I’ll fire off on them. It’s about who wants to fight more, during the course of a whole game.”
Schartz said he never doubted Bieber would make the defensive transition smoothly.
“Due to lack of depth, we had to put him on the defensive line and just because of the type of kid he is - we knew he could do it,” Schartz said. “He’s a team player — he’ll do whatever we ask of him and there are many positions he could play on the football field offensively and defensively.
“I hope he gets the chance to play at the next level, because whoever gets him is going to get a good football player.”
The senior said he’s looking into playing football in college, but isn’t sure where he’ll land yet.
“I’m looking to play some college ball,” he said. “I’m not really sure yet, but I’m looking at some colleges right now. That’s what I want to do.”
Ask him about the more famous Bieber, pop-star Justin, and he just shrugs and smiles.
“I get some occasional jokes and stuff like that,” Bieber said of his now famous last name. “Not a lot of grief. It happens. I’m used to it.”