When you look at Jeremie Cheng, the first words that come to mind are not "football star."
Cheng is generously listed at five-foot-nine, 150 pounds, wears glasses and a friendly smile.
But looks are deceiving.
The 16-year-old has burst on to the B.C. High School Football scene with the AA Varsity Nanaimo District Secondary School Islanders in his Grade 11 season.
He is among provincial leaders in both tackles and rushing yards, playing ironman football.
But for those who know his bloodlines, there is very little surprise.
His brother, Jacob Cheng, starred for the Islanders before earning a scholarship to NCAA Div. II program Simon Fraser University in 2012.
"He plays above his size," said NDSS head coach Nate Stevenson. "Knowing his pedigree and his older brother and working with him, I knew he was a pretty solid football player.
"Other teams look at his size, (but he) packs a punch in there."
Through six games - three exhibition, three regular season - Cheng is the Islanders top rusher with 328 yards, good enough for 13th in the province.
More impressively, however, he is third in B.C. in tackles with 48, playing outside linebacker for NDSS.
He almost plays linebacker out of necessity for the Islanders. With a small roster in both numbers and size, Cheng has found a home in the front seven. If he was in a bigger program, there is little doubt he would be playing in the defensive secondary, likely at safety.
One of his strengths on defence tends to shock opponents, it's his ability to fill the hole and take on a much bigger running back.
"I think other teams underestimate me because of my size, but I find it's an advantage because I'm already low enough and kids will run right at me," he said.
He relies on his vision and technical ability get the job done. "He maximizes his opportunities," said Stevenson. "If you're hitting the big guys, you're not going to win the big fights up top. He gets down low and makes sure. They may get an extra yard or two, but they're not going to finish the run."
Offensively, his vision is his biggest asset.
At the junior varsity level last year, he finished with 540 yards on 56 carries with 11 touchdowns. This year he is sharing the ball with two solid Grade 12 running backs - Brennan Mattes and Thomas Etchyson - and another Grade 11 back - Malik Besseghieur - but he leads the group in yards, and it's not even close. The telling stat is his yards per attempt average of 12.62, third in B.C. among backs with 20 or more carries.
"I can find holes really quickly and I can adjust my running path, I read my blocks well," said Cheng.
The numbers are reminiscent of his Jacob's in his senior year in 2011 - he finished with 736 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 53 carries for a 13.89 average.
Playing for SFU did not workout for the older Cheng, as injuries cost him his freshman season, and he was then injured in camp again this year.
However, he has been helping to prepare Jeremie for the varsity level, and ideally a scholarship of his own.
"He comes to all of my games and he's definitely a tough critic," said Jeremie. "Afterwards will watch game film with him and he'll tell me what I need to improve on and what I'm doing good."
The two have battled each other their entire life, and that football acumen is evident.
But Stevenson says it is not fair to compare the two on the field.
"The both brought different elements to NDSS football, if there was another Cheng, I'd certainly sign him up," he said.
The Islanders (1-2) host the Ballenas Whalers (1-2) on Friday at 1:45 p.m. at Merle Logan Field, with both teams looking to bounce back from defeats last week.
Stevenson knows they have their work cut out for them.
"They're good, we've never had a lot of success against those guys," he said. "They're big, they're fast they're aggressive, the know their football; it's certainly going to be a good game this Friday."
© Copyright 2013