TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — There is a widely circulated story that high school football players in rural Florida hone their athletic skills by chasing wild rabbits. They've got nothing on Isaiah Mack.
The Northwest Whitfield senior defensive lineman spent part of his summer chasing -- and sometimes catching -- kangaroos. Mack just returned from Brisbane, Australia, where he was participating in the Down Under Sports camp, a gathering of prep players from around the globe for a week of training, competition and challenging big marsupials.
"We got to catch kangaroos one day," said the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Mack, who was invited to the weeklong camp after being recommended by scouts. "Kangaroos there are like squirrels are here: They're everywhere. We ambushed one and finally caught it.
"Those things are fast, man. One of them stood up and it was like 6-2. We had been told its tail can hold its body weight. I wasn't afraid of it kicking me, but I didn't want that tail to get me."
Fun aside, the reigning Region 7-AAAA defensive player of the year did his usual damage on the field down under. He was named defensive MVP on his team, which finished 3-1 and lost in the championship game to a team from Texas on a last-second Hail Mary pass.
Even there, losing like that didn't sit well with Mack, who still is trying to get over the way last season ended for the Bruins.
"Losing in three overtimes to Gilmer [County] kept us from the playoffs, and I think about it every day," he said. "Then I go to Australia and we lose on a Hail Mary. I'm not losing like that again. It's not going to happen. I'm OK with losing, but not the crushing blows like that."
Such comments are not surprising to Northwest coach Josh Robinson, who saw Mack blossom into a star last year with 137 tackles, including 27 for loss and eight sacks in just 10 games -- all at defensive tackle.
"Isaiah just has a nonstop motor," Robinson said. "He makes plays all over the field, but what stands out the most is how much he wants to win. There's nothing he thinks he can't do."
Well, there is now.
"I got to play rugby and we watched a professional game," Mack said, shaking his head. "It's legal jumping. The bad thing is you're getting jumped by 20 guys and your teammates can't help you. It's intense. I'll take my pads and football any day."
Mack, who has put on 25 to 30 pounds since last season, is ready to get started on the 2013 season. He's being recruited by mostly FCS schools at the moment, in large part because he was an unknown before last year. Right now, he's got one thing on his mind.
"I want to be on a team that wants to win as much as I do," he said. "I love football, but it's that competition and winning with the guys next to me that motivates me. Australia was great, but I'm glad to be back at work."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...