From the time he started playing Pop Warner football when he was 10, Niko Kilburg was always small for an offensive lineman.
But that didn't keep him from being cast in the role.
"I learned to block before anything else," said Kilburg, whose dad Carl played on the line at Crown Point and coaches the position at Boone. "I enjoy it. I can always go to him and ask him what to do on a certain play, and he knows what he's saying."
What Kilburg's lacked in size, he's always made up for in execution.
"I still think he's probably our best technical blocker," Wolves coach Tony Tinkel said. "His footwork has always been really good. He's a smart kid. We can tell him, 'You have to pull, you have to cross block.' He knows what he has to do, and most of the time, he gets it done. When he does something wrong, he listens and works on getting better."
As a freshman, Kilburg was a scrawny 5-foot-8, 130 pounds. After his latest growth spurt, he now measures 6-3, 200, though his body still is nowhere close to being filled out.
"We're always teasing him that his arms are so small, and he'll say, 'Those are my biggest muscles,'" Tinkel said. "He works really hard. He just can't gain weight."
Kilburg compensates with deceptive quickness and a 6-9 wing span. Those qualities and a void at tight end prompted the move outside from guard, where he started for two years.
"He has the frame of a tight end more than a guard," Tinkel said. "He fits the mold. He started working with coach (Bryan) Hill in the summer. He performed very well at the Notre Dame 7 on 7 and the first two games, he's done well. When you move somebody from guard to tight end, you know they can still block."
In Boone's opener, Kilburg took advantage of a smaller Wheeler corner to haul in a touchdown pass. He already has nine catches for 82 yards, but still gets more of a rush from making a big block to spring a teammate. On most days, Kilburg continues working with the linemen, like Tuesday, when they were doing up-downs after everyone else was done with practice.
"I'm still one of 'em," said Kilburg, one of three captains among Boone's front wall. "Don't get me wrong, I like to catch and score. At the line, it's the same thing all the time. It's nice to mix it up more, to be able to make plays. But I enjoy blocking. I like to be a physical player, to drive a guy back 10 yards. My teammates might get the glory, but I still know I helped."
Kilburg, who has freshman twin brothers (Pete and Sam) on the team, is also one of eight two-way starters, playing end on defense. He sees time on most special teams, too.
"I wanted to return kicks, but they told me I needed some time off," he said.
After a 5-0 start last season, Boone suffered several key injuries and ended 7-4. The plus side was the experience the fill-ins gained, as many of them are now starters. The Wolves are 2-0 out of the gate and plan to sustain it beyond September, this time.
"People thought seven wins was good, but we should've had more," Kilburg said. "Some of the (2012) seniors didn't believe we'd be as good this year, but we're just as close. We knew the guys coming up. They weren't in the spotlight, but they were right behind it. The coaches prepared us. We intend to finish strong. We want to do more. We just have to keep healthy."