Discouraged by a few losing seasons, Alex Helm took time off from football when his father's military service took the family to Germany for a year. When he returned and enrolled at Fallston as a sophomore, he decided to give football another shot.
Now a senior center and team captain, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Helm is a leader on an offensive line that has plowed the way for 2,156 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns and a 10-0 season. The Cougars, champions in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division, play their regional semifinal game at home Friday at 7 p.m. against Easton.
Helm also wrestles for the Cougars and made the state tournament last season. He wants to play football in college and has attended camps at Maryland, Michigan, Princeton, Harvard and Yale, among others. Helm has a 3.5 GPA and plans to become a mechanical engineer.
How did you get started playing football?
My dad played in high school and he liked it, so he encouraged me in middle school to go play. I was a lineman, so I wasn't an all-star player or anything like that, but I was pretty good. Then, I was on two 0-10 teams my sixth grade year and seventh grade year. Going into high school I was like, "You know what? I don't really even want to play anymore," I thought I was doing my job and we'd keep losing. It was kind of tough, so in my freshman year I played tennis instead of football.
What brought you back to football?
My dad was in the military so we lived overseas and tennis was bigger in Europe than (American) football. When I moved to Fallston going into my sophomore year, someone said, "Our team is pretty good. We went 8-2 last year, went to the playoffs," so I was like, "I'll pick up football again. I'll give it a try."
What do you enjoy most about playing on the line?
Especially on goal line [stands] and it's a run up the middle, when you push the D-line back and you score a touchdown that's probably the greatest feeling — to know that you imposed your will on them and you won. That's probably the greatest thing to know that when it's down in the trenches, you and your guys are going to be able to win that battle.
What's the biggest challenge for the center?
I'm just trying to make sure everybody's on the same page before the ball is snapped, by calling out blitzes and things like that and making sure everybody knows what they're doing before the quarterback is ready to go. I think that's the biggest challenge. Sometimes I'll call out a blitz and [the quarterback is] starting his cadence and that sometimes can be a little confusing.
You have an unusual description of the relationship between the line and quarterback Brendan Weinhold. How does that work?
He's like our president to the O-line's secret service almost. We've got to protect him. He's our guy. We don't like to see him get knocked down or get tackled.
How good is the secret service this year?
For myself and Levi Lloyd, the right guard, we both got pulled up as sophomores and we've been playing together the longest. Now we have Joe Detorie, our right tackle. He's a junior and he did a lot of work with us during the off season. He was pretty good last year and now with the work he's been doing in the summer, he's become a really good player. And Noah Hess, he's the left guard. He's a senior. He's been playing for a long time. He started as a junior and he's doing a really good job for us this year. Mike Katzenberger is our left tackle. He's a junior. He played as a sophomore. He didn't play a lot of offensive line last year, but this year he really stepped up. He started learning the position and he's doing a really good job.
Do you guys spend much time together off the field?
I'd say more the seniors, Me, Levi and Noah, we hang out a lot. (Laughs) Not to say we don't like Joe or Katz, but I think it's more being seniors we try to get together more often because it's our last year. But on Wednesdays the guys like to go out and get something to eat together as a team so we all hang out there.
What's it like for you looking for the patterns and the trends of the opposing defense and reacting to that?
I think a lot of that comes before the game. I watch a lot of film at home and our coaches do a really good job of picking out formations, telling us what they do. Today [Monday] is a film day, so I'll go in and coach, he'll talk about what kind of blitzes they like to run and so I try to remember that and when I go home I try to study that for myself. During game time, it's easier because if I see a certain pattern or something they're doing, I already know. I've already seen it against other teams and I can call it out.
You play a little defensive tackle as well, but do you like offense best?
I think so. Defense is fun making tackles for a loss and getting big hits on the quarterback, but it's better — not for me personally but as the whole offensive line — if we're getting even just five yards a carry every time, just running it over people. I think that's a testament to our backs and finding the holes, running hard and playing tough football. That's a really good feeling.
What's been the key behind the 10-0 season?
Team is first. We've played a lot of good teams and I think we really came together as a team. Coach (Dave) Cesky says all the time that we gel more than any other team he's seen and he's been here 36 years, so that's a big deal. For Coach Cesky I think this is a bigger thing than for us, 10-0. In 36 seasons this is his first perfect one. To be able to do this for him was a really special thing. I know he'll remember it and I'll remember it for the rest of our lives.
Did the pressure build on the team as you got closer to the end of the season?
I kept thinking, as we were approaching big games like North Harford and Bel Air, "Let's be 1-0 this week. Let's not worry about if we're 8-0 or we only have two more games or whatever. Let's just be 1-0 this week. Let's worry about this week's game this Friday. Don't worry about anything else. Just play your hardest this week." And it's been working out for us so far.