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Double Trouble: Seniors Kulbacki, Harris lead the Dobyns-Bennett defense

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 2, 2019 at 8:21 PM

KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett senior football players Braxton Kulbacki and Jet Harris are close friends with similar interests.

Both are looking at future careers in the medical field. For now, they’re often inflicting pain instead of treating pain, in addition to causing headaches for opposing coaches, quarterbacks and running backs.

Plans are for Harris, an all-conference selection at linebacker last year who recorded 70 tackles, including a team-best 14 for loss, to move around in the Indians’ defense — whether they use a 4-3 or 3-4 base.

“I’ll be playing some defensive end, but it’s going to be like playing linebacker, just lined on the tight end where I’m on the tackle now,” Harris said Friday at the team’s media day. “I’m definitely planning on getting after the quarterback a whole lot more. I like pass rushing and getting in the backfield. I like blitzing a lot.”

That’s bad news for those quarterbacks, who can’t expect much relief from Kulbacki, an inside linebacker who had 43 tackles and five sacks last season. Along with juniors Nate Whitley, who had a team-high 79 stops in 2018, Jackson Martin and Phillip Armitage, it’s a formidable linebacking corps.

“The linebacking corps of Jet, Braxton, Jackson, Nate and Phillip, that’s the strength of our team,” Dobyns-Bennett coach Joey Christian said. “Those guys can go sideline to sideline and make the plays we need. They do a tremendous job of that.”

Harris is also expected to carry the ball on occasion at running back, but he’s one who prefers the defensive side of the ball, stating, “I like to give the hit more than take the hit.”

It’s the same for Kulbacki, who was a quarterback before finding a natural spot at linebacker his freshman year.

“I never was a defensive player, but ever since I started playing linebacker I fell in love with the position,” Kulbacki said. “It’s a complicated position because you have so much passing responsibility and so much with stopping the run.”

AWAY FROM FOOTBALL

Both are excellent students in the classroom and often work out together in the weight room. Aside from football, they both enjoy the great outdoors.

Kulbacki, who is going on a two-year mission with his church after high school, is big into golf and fishing. When he was nine years old, he caught a 24-inch rainbow trout, reeled in with the help of his grandfather in Montana.

Harris enjoys hiking and exploring waterfalls, often heading east at Dupont State Forest near Asheville. Some of his favorite places have been Triple Falls and Rainbow Falls, although he thoroughly enjoyed a trip to Colorado where he hiked in the Garden of the Gods Park.

STARTING STRONG

With the season at hand, their focus is on football.

Dobyns-Bennett ended last season with a two-game winning streak. Both players have circled the season opener with Tennessee High as a game of the utmost importance. While the Vikings averaged 34.6 points over 10 regular-season games last season, Harris feels confident the Indians have the answer for them.

“We want to come out there and use our speed and shut them down with our defense,” Harris said. “We’re good up front with guys Ricky Wagner, who’s such a big guy. We’ve got good defensive backs and we’re going to have a solid defense.”

Kulbacki said, “We’re looking to build some momentum. Last year, we got off to a slow start until beating Science Hill, which was a really big win for us. This year, we want to both start out big and end big.”

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