Small ball? Fines, Mayoral play big time on d-line
Mike Mayoral, left, and Rolando Fines, right, play as big as their coach Ernie Logan.
Mike Mayoral, left, and Rolando Fines, right, play as big as their coach Ernie Logan.
From left: Mike Mayoral, coach Ernie Logan, Rolando Fines.
From left: Mike Mayoral, coach Ernie Logan, Rolando Fines.
Rolondo Fines and Mike Mayoral have heard the snickers.

They’ve heard it all from opposing offensive linemen -- how they’re too short, too small to play on the interior of the Jacksonville University defensive line. They’ve heard the comments so much they’re immune to them.

The funny thing is, once they get going they usually get the last laugh.

“When we line up on game day and they look at us and start talking about the two small tackles in front of them,’’ Fines said. “We just look at each other knowing we’re going to take care of business.’’

The reason for the wise cracks is Fines and Mayoral aren’t the biggest defensive linemen around. Mayoral is listed at 6 feet, 250 pounds and Fines 6 feet, 245 and they might get to 6 feet after spending a few hours on a medieval torture rack.

While they may be small in stature, they don’t play that way and see their size as an advantage many times.

Fines, a senior from Tampa, Fla., is the clear leader on defense and tops the team in tackles with 42, has seven tackles for losses and three sacks. Mayoral, a junior from St. Augustine, Fla., has 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses and a sack and a half.

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,’’ Fines said of some of the behemoths he faces weekly. “Sometimes the size in advantage because we get leverage, we get underneath. Nobody’s going to get their helmet under my shoulder pads unless they crouch really low.’’

“The bigger guys I can probably beat them around the edge,’’ Mayoral, who agreed on the leverage issue, said. “You have to know what they’re doing first and get to where they want to go before they get there. I just don’t want to get beat.’’

Dayton coach Rick Chamberlin, who had to prepare for the two last week, said size can be overestimated.

“The old saying ‘bigger is better’ does not always apply in football even though a lot of people think it does,’’ Chamberlin said. “A shorter, more athletic, defensive lineman has two advantages. One is leverage, the second is quickness. The offensive blocker might make initial contact, but against an athletic opponent the challenge is to sustain the block. The quicker defender (Mayoral and Fines) can get off blocks and run to the ball.’’

Defensive line coach Ernie Logan, a veteran of the NFL, agrees and says the pair has the attributes of which Chamberlin spoke.

“You do have to have some size to play but football is more a technique game,’’ Logan, who towers at 6-4, said. “Those two guys have got to have excellent technique and they understand leverage. That’s how you can be undersized and have the success they have had.’’

Mayoral didn’t start out making life miserable for offensive linemen. H’s career on defense started at linebacker at St. Augustine High School and made his move to the line after getting to JU. Fines, who didn’t start playing ball until his sophomore year at Freedom High School, went straight to defensive line but also played offensive line there.

“I was failing my technology class and the teacher said he would help me if I played football,’’ Fines said. “I needed the help with the grade so I went out to spring ball. It was OK and they kept me on the team. I didn’t play much as a sophomore but did as a junior and senior.’’

Since coming to JU they have become best friends and have learned each other’s on-field habits.

“We have our own hand signals,’’ Mayoral said. “I know he’s got my back and I’ve got his back and we feed off each other and read each other.’’

And, he said, intimidation by size isn’t a factor.

“You can’t let that (being intimidated) happen,’’ Mayoral said. “As soon as that happens I won’t be able to play ball.’’

The doubters have helped in that he has had to prove himself so much there is no need to be intimidated.

“At (JU) camp they were already looking down on me because of my size and I knew I would have to play to the level they expected,’’ he said. “They’re looking at me like ‘is this guy really going to do it for us?’ I had to prove myself. If I wanted to play I have to beat these guys, I couldn’t let anyone stop me from playing.’’

Logan doesn’t dispute that.

“With Mayoral I was a little more concerned,’’ Logan said. “But with both of them when they got here they hit the ground running. Last year was Mayoral’s breakout year and he’s picked up from that.’’

One thing Logan saw in both was a “good motor,’’ the want to go non-stop.

“That’s stuff you can’t coach,’’ he said. “He either has a motor or he doesn’t and if he has the motor you can get the technique right. They both understand the game; they’re good players.’’

-- Jim Nasella