Hoping to hang out and have lunch with Totino-Grace senior linebacker Kurt Mattox in the school cafeteria? You are out of luck until late November.

Mattox joins teammates in midday locker room session, dissecting film while digesting his meal. This sacrifice stems from calling signals for a front seven that one Lake Conference coach deemed the best in the state.

Powered by their defense, the Eagles (6-0) are ranked No. 1 in Class 5A. Mattox leads the team with 30 tackles, productivity that starts in the film room.

"He's right there with them," Eagles coach Jeff Ferguson said of Mattox's place among the program's elite students of the game. "We give our linebackers a lot of freedom to make calls and he is a good high school linebacker."

Mattox spoke to Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about his duties before the ball in snapped, taking motivation from a loss last season and the final two weeks of the regular season.

Q You call the signals and get the defense in proper alignment. What goes into your role out there?

A Coach Ferguson calls the basic defense but then it's up to the linebackers if there's a strength call left or right. And then, depending if there is a blitz or not, we make a call as to who is on or off. It's the linebacker's job to decide and tell the defensive linemen what to do in those situations.

Q Was being a linebacker always this complicated?

A Freshman year was more ''line up and play.'' When you get to the varsity level you've got to know all the linebacker positions, plus what the defensive backs are doing. You've kind of got to know the whole defense. It gets complicated but we practice a lot.

Q What strengths do you bring to your position?

A Well, I'm not necessarily a blue-chip athlete or anything [laughs]. It comes down to basically knowing what the other team is doing. If you understand the concepts of the defense, if you are willing to go all-out every play, then anyone can play linebacker.

Q For guys such as yourself who played in the state tournament semifinal loss to Eden Prairie last season -- is that game driving you guys to bigger things this season?

A Oh yeah, that's was a major driving force in the offseason as well. That blowout loss [49-7] was not a reflection of the season we had. All the juniors and sophomores used that as motivation to get to that level so we don't encounter anyone that does that to us again.

Q Do you wish you could get them back? (The teams are in different classes this season and will not meet in the playoffs.)

A Oh yeah. Next year, actually, they are on the regular season schedule. I wish I could come back for a fifth year [laughs].

Q  You have Armstrong (1-5) on Friday and then a showdown with Osseo (only losses by forfeit) next Wednesday. Are players having a tough time keeping the focus on this week?

A Last Friday we played Andover, who was 2-3, and they played us really, really tight the whole game [a 14-13 Eagles victory]. So anything is possible. We play week to week; we don't look ahead. If you don't bring it each and every week, you get an L on your record and you can't get that back. But obviously, Osseo is a big game. It'll be fun.

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574