There's no doubt Lucas Kim has an effect on how the Flintridge Prep football team plays on Friday nights.
It goes way beyond the middle linebacker's ability to stop the other team's running back in his tracks, too. Second-year Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison will be the first to say Kim's the "attitude and heart" of the defense, as well as the team's emotional leader.
After just spending a few months with the varsity squad, Clayton Weirick, Prep's new junior quarterback, has already witnessed Kim's impact on the team.
"Our team goes up and down with him, basically," Weirick said. "When he gets fired up, our team gets fired up with him. He does control the emotion of our team."
Kim, a senior, proved to be an important piece to the Rebels' success last year, evidenced in the team's Prep League opener against Chadwick, the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Northeast Division at the time, on Oct. 15, 2010.
The Rebels were in control of the game in the third quarter, up 19-13, driving into Chadwick's 20-yard line when Kim, who also plays fullback, tore his MCL. Prep failed to score on the drive, turning the ball over on downs at the Dolphins' one-yard line.
It only got worse when Chadwick took over on offense and broke a 99-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 19.
"They actually ran through my A-gap, where I would have been playing, and that killed me the most," Kim said.
Chadwick went on to win, 33-19, scoring three more touchdowns — one of which came off an interception — when Prep's quarterback threw to Kim's replacement at fullback.
"The whole timing was changed just because I went down and I couldn't do anything," Kim said. "I know if I was in the ball game it would have been different. The season would have been different, too."
Harrison doesn't hesitate to echo Kim's statements.
"I strongly believe that," Harrison said. "We win that first game in league against Chadwick, who was ranked in our [division], and it gets us rolling. It's a whole different season. Our guys would have felt a lot more confident."
The Rebels went on to drop the next two games without Kim, as he was diagnosed with a grade-one MCL tear. Kim battled his way back onto the field for the last two games of the season. Prep was winless, 0-6-1 at that point, but something changed with Kim's return, as the Rebels defeated Viewpoint, 35-0, and Webb, 34-14, to close out the season.
Kim believes the confidence from that two-game winning streak will carry into this season.
"We are trying to be known as a football team, not Prep, the team that loses six games every season," Kim said. "We want to be known as the team that can still play. We may not have a lot of guys, but we have heart."
Harrison said Kim just has that effect on the team — his teammates play harder for him because he demands it.
"Lucas will not let anybody slack off," Harrison said. "He will be the first guy to get on you.
"I think Lucas is the key to a lot of what we're doing offensively and defensively this year."
Of course, when it comes down to performance on the field, Harrison couldn't ask for much else. Kim had 38 tackles, averaging 5.4 a game, and caused three fumbles, recovering one, last year. His play on the field has his teammates and coaches calling him, "Happy Feet" because he just goes from "sideline to sideline and never stops moving," Harrison said.
"It's not just something I have," Kim said. "I don't want to let my teammates down. If I don't make the play, I feel I am letting them down, not just myself."
It's rare Kim lets Prep down.
"He's a serious run stopper, he's a banger," Harrison said. "He loves to get in there and mix it up in the middle, sacrifice his entire body and take on as many guys as he can. He's the typical nasty middle linebacker you want to have."
Weirick is happy he only has to line up against Kim during practice.
"It's intimidating when Lucas is mad," Weirick said. "He's a scary kid. He hits hard. You don't want to get in a grudge match with him."
Kim takes that same hard-nosed approach when he carries the ball. As a fullback, he had four carries for 40 yards and a touchdown last year, but he figures to be a bigger part of the offense this year.
"I want to be known as the guy that just runs over people," Kim said. "I want to tire the defense down so when we run that screen or swing play the running back will get the touchdown."
Ultimately, it's that team-first approach that makes Kim stand out.
"One thing that makes him so good is he gives a damn," Harrison said. "He cares about this team and about the guys next to him."