Edina defensive line coach Jason Van Houten has to restrict star pupil Deon Dorvil in practice. He's rough on teammates before he's unleashed on opponents.

"We maneuver people around to make sure he doesn't hurt them and make them quit because he keeps kicking their butts," Van Houten said.

Dorvil, a 5-10, 290-pound senior defensive tackle and linchpin in Edina's defense, returned from a torn ACL last year and resumed his dominating ways. His toughness and selflessness -- he often ties up two offensive linemen to give teammates a cleared path to the ballcarrier -- helped fueled the rise of the Hornets (5-1) to the third-best team both in the state and the competitive Lake Conference. A huge test awaits Friday at No. 2 Wayzata (4-0).

Edina coach Reed Boltmann said Dorvil, who arrived at Edina as a sophomore from Miami Northwestern High School, "brings a Southern football toughness. He's a banger in there and he goes hard every play. Every coach we talk to say he's the focal point on our defense. He allows other guys to make plays because of all the attention on him."

Extra attention ruined Dorvil's junior season in a game against Lakeville North. Locked in a pass rush against two offensive linemen, Dorvil was hit low by a third player he never saw coming.

"He was single-handedly keeping us close in that game," Van Houten said. "He was creating a lot of unpleasant down and distances for them."

Felled by the first injury of his athletic career, Dorvil decided to "take my frustrations out on the weight room," he said. His best bench press was 330 pounds. His best squat was 450. He gained almost 30 pounds but did not sacrifice quickness.

He also worked diligently on rehabilitating his injured knee. Edina junior running back Kevin Placide, Dorvil's brother, remembers him "going outside to exercise to make his knee better more quickly."

"Overall, he's a player I look up to because he keeps trying and never gives up," Placide said. "That's what we want our team to be."

Apprehensive earlier this season about whether the knee would hold up amid the rigors of life near the line of scrimmage, Dorvil has mostly forgotten the injury. His lone reminder is the right knee brace he will wear for two years as a precaution.

"It took some time to get used to the brace, but I feel like I'm a better player," Dorvil said. "My uncle told me not to be scared. He also told me, 'Don't stay on the double team and push it back, try to split it or get around it.'"

While playing with a brace is not ideal, Dorvil knows he is fortunate to be on the field for the game at Wayzata. Last Friday, Trojans star running back Mitch Underhill tore his ACL in a game at Minnetonka. Like Dorvil, Underhill lost a promising junior season to the same injury.

Dorvil lamented the speedy runner's absence in a manner befitting a salty defensive player. "Actually, when I heard Mitch was out I was kind of down, because I knew I wouldn't get to hit him hard," Dorvil said.

Taking a similar respectful but not fearful approach has helped Edina assert itself in the Lake Conference. The Hornets upset Minnetonka two weeks ago, then beat Hopkins in a game crucial to postseason positioning.

The new Class 6A section playoff format allows the top four teams to play the bottom four teams within each section before crossing over to play another section. Though Edina resides in Section 6 with the four other Lake Conference teams, the Hornets might not have any Lake teams standing between them and the state tournament.

That would be a welcome change, considering that Edina's previous eight postseason runs ended with losses to either Eden Prairie or Minnetonka.

Dorvil has no plans of going home early, regardless of the opponent.

"We put in too much work to lose, and we said after losing to Totino-Grace [on Sept. 7] that we're not going to lose again," Dorvil said. "We're all working hard and we have a strong connection. We're working as one to get to the Dome."