Even Orange, Calif., gets ice cold.Senior linebackers Dominick Gaitan, Daniel Hartigan, Will Hopkins and Wes Pinkston have vowed to play ice cold” football this season, and it has paid off-the quartet has 20 tackles for loss, including nine quarterback sacks combined.”We’re ice cold-we hurt people’s feelings. Once we step onto the field, we’re not there to make friends with our opponents,” said Pinkston.The Panthers’ (3-3) defense is predicated on the strength of the linebackers.”They are the heart and soul of the defense. A lot of what we do defensively goes right through their positions, and they’ve done a good job shouldering that responsibility,” said Head Football Coach Bob Owens.”We have to be that rock. We have to be perfection and we can’t mess up. If we mess up, everyone’s in trouble,” said Pinkston.The four have matured in tandem since they entered the program as freshmen in 2005.”We competed against one another and really learned to respect one another,” said Hartigan. “We were competing for the same goal and we eventually got to the same spot. That battle made us closer.”Linebacker Coach David Harrison said he used to constantly challenge the players, and he believes his “corky” teaching methods helped produce exceptional results.”They all had the physical ability, but once they took to my teaching ways, they began to play linebacker like it should be played: from a technical standpoint,” said Harrison.After three years of instruction, Harrison’s system has become second nature, said Pinkston.”Now we’re all like one mind out there. It’s kind of creepy. They know what I’m going to say before I even say it,” said Harrison.Despite their playing style, the “Big Four,” as Owens likes to call them, maintain their idiosyncrasies.Each has a unique way of celebrating a big tackle.Pinkston and Gaitan like to use “a little flare.”Pinkston performs the “shark dance” from the football film “Any Given Sunday,” where he makes mock fins with his hands and waves them above his head.”I gotta feel it. Sometimes I’ll make a sack and just go back to the huddle, and other times I’ll just go crazy and get yelled at by defensive coordinator coach Dave Bishop,” said Pinkston.Gaitan, admitting he has “watched too many NFL dances,” said he often gets made fun of for some of his celebrations.”Sometimes, I ‘roll the dice,’ or other times I’ll just look at the other sideline and flash my number,” said Gaitan.Hartigan and Hopkins are more conservative.”I just go back to the huddle and get ready for the next play,” said Hartigan, but Hopkins has a little more fun.”I’ll either do a fist pump and scream, or I’ll just go back to the huddle,” said Hopkins.Gaitan and Pinkston are close friends off the field, as are Hartigan and Hopkins. Coincidentally, Hartigan and Hopkins play side by side as inside linebackers, and Gaitan and Pinkston play on the outside.All four will play their last two games with the Panthers in the next two weeks.”We’re just four great guys and it’s going to be tough to leave,” said Pinkston. “I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to go out and a more perfect group of guys to really come through the ranks with. We are all humble and classy, yet have that swagger to get the job done.
Even Orange, Calif., gets ice cold.