Markel Wilson had to answer the same questions every time he attended a summer football camp.
"You are a lineman? Really?" he has been asked over and over. Those questions are normally followed by a statement: "But you are too small."
Every time he heard that, Wilson, a 5-foot-9, 240-pound defensive lineman for Mansfield Timberview, smiled and resolved to prove he could play with anyone.
"It's kind of hard, because I am small," Wilson said. "They say: 'You can't do this. You can't do that.' It just adds up motivation. I feel like I can do anything now."
Wilson has watched opposing offensive linemen laugh when they see him trot out for Timberview's first defensive series.
"But after I get past them or beat them on a play, they take me more seriously," Wilson said. "I'm fast, and I can bull-rush if I need to. If I ever think I can't do it, I think back to all of the hard work we've done and all of the negative things I've been told."
Wilson is the smallest player on a Timberview front that has sacrificed size for quickness. Joshua Esukpa (6-3, 240), Rene Lawson (6-2, 235) and Jeremy Miller (5-11, 305) round out the speedy starting line.
Timberview held Colleyville Heritage, one of the top offenses in the area, to 274 yards in a 44-19 win to start the postseason. This week, the Wolves (9-2) play Flower Mound Marcus (10-1) at Cowboys Stadium in the Class 5A area round of the playoffs.
One person who will not be laughing at the small Timberview D-line is Marcus coach Bryan Erwin.
"They play so hard and fast and they are physical," Erwin said. "They are the best defense we've seen all year long. They are just in your face all of the time. It's going to be tough to move the football."
After playing a Heritage team that is an all-out air raid (the Panthers threw the ball 47 times), Timberview has had to change defensive mindsets for Marcus. The Marauders gained 3,433 yards (343 yards a game) on the ground in the regular season.
"I feel like our district has prepared us for this," Timberview coach Mark Walker said. "We played Cedar Hill, Duncanville and Mansfield. Those guys all pound the ball. Marcus will do the exact same thing. We can't stay blocked and be sound in what we are doing."
The Marcus line is an athletic mix of size and speed. Ryan Renfro (6-5, 290), Connor Sutherland (6-3, 220) and Kevin Blessing (6-1, 270) are the largest Marauders linemen, but Ross Depperschmidt (6-0, 205) and Shane Von Strohe (5-9, 205) also start.
"I think that will be a pretty good matchup. I hope we can play with them," Erwin said. "Timberview is quick on that line. They play offense on defense, attacking."
Wilson and his fellow Timberview defensive linemen know stopping the Marcus attack starts up front.
"We always say that it starts with us," Esukpa said. "We talk about how we are the heart of this defense. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect, so this defense will work. Marcus is very physical."
The Wolves are looking forward to Saturday's 5 p.m. game in Cowboys Stadium. There, on football's biggest stage, Timberview's smallest lineman will get his teammates going.
"I see him make a play, and I want to get in there and make a play for him too," Lawson said. "He gets us hyped."
Wilson has the quickness to elude offensive linemen, hurry QBs and help run down running backs.
"He's a better cutter, bringing down the other team's centers," Esukpa said. "We are impressed by what he can do every day. He helps us so much."
He has 10 tackles this year along with a forced fumble, and like the other defensive linemen, his biggest job is freeing up the linebackers to finish tackles.
"He's a great young man, listening and doing," Walker said. "He's quicker, which is what we look at. He can get off blocks, stay low and occupy double teams. Doing the little things well is what makes him good."
For Timberview's undersized defensive line, Saturday is a chance to prove they belong with the 5A elite.
"It's a challenge, an opportunity for us to show what we are made of," Miller said.
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760