Late in Friday's game against defending state-champion Corvallis, the Ashland defense twice had its back against end zone as it tried to protect both a five-point lead and its unblemished record.

Both times, Corvallis attacked Ashland on the ground and both times the Spartans were turned back, first by a forced fumble and later by a solid Grizzly gang tackle.

Ashland's impersonation of a brick wall was hardly a shocker &

the Grizzlies are allowing just 2.7 yards per rush and have an astounding plus-10 turnover margin. What may be surprising to some, however, especially those who saw game footage, was the Ashland player in the No. 50 jersey who served as a catalyst on both plays.

That player was Edwin Lee, a two-way senior lineman who has worked his way onto Ashland's starting goal line defense. Why is that surprising? In a game of giants, Lee is holding his own &

all 5-foot-6 of him.

"He's got a great heart," said Ashland head coach Charlie Hall, who admits that Lee's listed height is generous. "He's been part of the program since I've been here for three years now. He trains, plays hockey and rugby, and he's one of those kids that just loves being on the team. He's a little bit of a character, but the team really likes him and respects him."

Respect

The coaches respect him, too &

they named Lee one of Ashland's three team captains for Friday night's home game against Roosevelt. Kickoff for the nonconference clash is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Lee has yet to be credited with a tackle, but against Corvallis he showed why that statistic isn't the only measure of success on defense. On one of the aforementioned fourth-quarter stops, the eventual fumble was partly a byproduct of Lee's gritty work in the trenches.

"When we get down on the goal line, he's one of the guys that crawls into the offensive linemen to try to cause a pile," Hall said. "And because Edwin caused a pile with the offensive linemen, the running back had no place to go but over the top, and then he was met by a linebacker."

Lee isn't all heart. He's got some beef despite his size &

205 pounds worth &

and can squat 370 pounds. And he doesn't shy away from the constant banging that goes along with line play; he's been playing football since middle school and rugby, an even more brutal sport, since his sophomore year.

While his presence on the football team draws curious looks, Lee doesn't see himself as an enigma. His job is to help keep opponents out of the end zone (something the Grizzlies have done very well this season) and he measures himself by how well he does that, not by his ability to merely survive a position typically dominated by each team's biggest and baddest players.

"Personally, I don't feel like it's that big of a disadvantage," said Lee, shrugging his shoulders while getting ready for Wednesday's team pictures. "Yeah, I'm small, but I work hard, so it's not that big of a deal to me. People ask me, 'Why do you play football?' It seems like you're a pretty small guy.' It's the camaraderie of the game &

here, with the guys."

The opponent

If their first two games are any indication, the Roughriders will provide the Grizzlies with an opportunity to work out some kinks on offense. Roosevelt of the Portland Interscholastic League enters the contest winless after two lackluster performances; Corvallis and Wilsonville have outscored the Roughriders by a combined score of 100-12.

"Their program is kind of a work-in-progress right now," said Hall, pointing out that Roosevelt went through a coaching change in the offseason, "but athletically, they can score points because they have so much speed."

Ashland (3-0), meanwhile, is coming off an emotional win that featured stellar defense but not much offense. Overall, Ashland is barely outgaining its opponents in total offense, 278 to 275. The difference for the Grizzlies has been their turnover margin and their special teams, which has done an outstanding job pinning opponents back thanks in part to the punting of Sam Gaviglio and the kicking of Ethan Bitzer and Dan Cropper. Ashland opponents are averaging just 12.9 yards per kickoff return.

"Those things are just creating field position advantages for us that we just didn't have before," Hall said.

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.