LOWELL | Sometimes when a youngster gets pushed around by the older kids on the block, it causes great pain and sorry. Or maybe an appearance on The Jerry Springer Show.
But other times, getting shoved all over the place by your elders makes you tougher. And much better.
The second of the two scenarios has worked for Lowell's Red Devils. Last autumn, coach Keith Kilmer played several sophomores on his defensive unit.
"Honestly, they probably weren't ready for varsity football," Kilmer said. "But so far this year, our decision is working out pretty well."
A year ago, sophomore defensive lineman Niko Vasquez took a few lumps against fellas a couple years older. But it's paying off big time for the Devils, with a capital D.
"What we ask from our defensive linemen is what we've always asked," Kilmer said. "We don't need them to lead us in tackles. We just need them to make room for our linebackers to run.
"Niko is doing a great job now as a junior."
Lowell (5-2, 4-0) travels to Munster (5-2, 3-1) in a big Northwest Crossroads Conference game. If the Devils can get the win, it sets up a Week 9 showdown against Andrean with a shot at sharing the league title.
The Devils are only allowing 12 points a game, which is seventh in Class 4A. They are only allowing 90.4 rushing yards a game and 124.6 passing yards a game.
Lowell's defensive leaders are Dan Garza (46 tackles, 11 tackles for loss), Paul Mauer (42 tackles), Ike James (39 tackles) and Josh Bottos (41 tackles).
"Our defense has kept us in a lot of games," Kilmer said.
Lowell has won five straight after two tough losses to open the season. Crown Point beat the Devils 16-12, and Morton beat them 14-7.
"Those were two tough losses against two tough teams, but we all felt we could've won both games so we gained some confidence," Kilmer continued.
Since the 0-2 start, Lowell is outscoring opponents 136-54.
"We always knew we had the talent," Kilmer said. "We just had to gain the confidence."
Lowell has won as many games in seven weeks as it did the previous two seasons where the Devils had identical 5-5 records.
Kilmer expects a similar kind of game against the Mustangs tonight. Munster, although in a different offensive scheme, runs the ball as much as Lowell does.
The clock shouldn't be stopped much in this one.
"We have all the respect in the world for (Munster coach) Leroy (Marsh) and his staff," Kilmer said. "They're well coached. Very disciplined. They just don't make mistakes. It's like we're playing ourselves.
"They haven't passed much. They try to shorten the game and move the chains. It's going to be a good challenge."