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Playing Football as an Undersized Athlete

Competing in a sport like football is tough, and playing when undersized is an even greater challenge. Requiring a smaller athlete to block or tackle a significantly stronger, larger player will usually lead to disaster; but this isn’t always the case. Learning how to compete with a huge heart and confidence, along with playing to your own advantages, can yield success regardless of size.


If you are not big and strong, then perhaps you’re very fast, extremely quick and incredibly agile. These qualities are going to be your more useful tools (football I.Q. is number one) on the field. When you know how to use your abilities to your advantage, there is a greater potential for production during competition. Reflect on how the basics of football apply to your skill set.


We’ve all seen the smaller running back in pass protection too often get completely run over by a larger defensive player. If you want to avoid this, use your speed to attack the defender before he can gain momentum. This means you have to identify the rusher before or right after he starts his rush to the quarterback. Taking on the defender head on is dangerous, so aim at a place below the torso and deliver a powerful blow to slow him down.

If you’re an undersized lineman, then you have to learn how to zone block: get the defender moving in one direction and use his momentum to keep him moving the same direction. This way, you do not have to overpower him.


Being a small runner is not necessarily a liability. Usually the offensive line is twice your size so it takes a bit longer for the defense to identify your exact location. Also, your size serves as a smaller target and makes it more difficult for defenders to land a good hit on you. In addition, you should be faster and more agile than the tackler, which places you with a clear advantage in the open field. Avoid taking big shots by keeping your feet moving and going down when the odds are against you.


If you’re playing receiver, especially the slot position, then you have the mismatch in the passing game. This occurs because you are defended by a nickel back, linebacker or even a defensive end at times. Your speed and agility should have you open in just a few steps; this protects your quarterback from getting sacked and it provides and uptempo pace for the offense. Both of these results have a negative impact on the defense.

Once the ball is caught, make a decision to keep running forward, change direction or just go down. It may seem like the cowardly thing to do, but sometimes you’re surrounded or a defender has closed in on you way faster than you can react. Consider where you and the defenders are at all times in order to avoid these dangerous situations.


This is definitely the toughest assignment for a defender that is undersized. Some backs make a living running through smaller defenders that try and take on a power back head to head. If you want to increase your chance of making the tackle, use your speed to attack the runner before he builds momentum. Aim towards the waist and be sure to wrap up the legs completely. Regardless of size, no back can run without his legs.

Try your best not to lead with your helmet because a descent back will either stiff arm your face in the dirt, run through you, fake you out or even leap over you. All of these scenarios lead to more yards and possibly points at your expense.

There are numerous positions on the field where an undersized player can thrive. By using their advanced speed, quickness and agility, these athletes can be positive contributors to their team.

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By: Kamal Walker

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August 30, 2021

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