The opportunity to “smack some people” never gets old for Nick Giardina.

For the senior inside linebacker for the Pickerington High School North football team, that phrase means making tackles – and lots of them.

In a 35-0 win over Dublin Jerome on Sept. 1, the Panthers set the program record for fewest yards allowed by limiting the Celtics to just 11 total yards, including minus-16 rushing, and forced 10 punts.

Giardina had two sacks, 4 1/2 tackles for loss and 19 tackles overall against Jerome, but he considered the final score to be the ultimate payoff.

“It’s just fun to be with the team, and you always love seeing that goose egg on the scoreboard (by the opposing team),” Giardina said. “My job is to shut down the run, so I focus on reading my keys and having a nose for the football. Our defense is very good. Our new schemes this year are very good. We’re putting more guys in the box sometimes, more defensive backs on the field, and we’re angling and slanting.”

North, which opened with a 40-7 victory over Mississauga (Ontario) Clarkson on Aug. 25, fell to 2-1 with a 27-26 loss to Centerville on Sept. 8. The Panthers outgained the Elks 316-255 in total yards.

North takes a 3-1 all-time record against Westerville Central into its home matchup with the Warhawks on Friday, Sept. 15. Last season, the Panthers beat Central 45-16, with Giardina recording 12 tackles.

His tackle total against Jerome is fourth best in program history, behind 2009 graduate Amir Khezrdanamehr, who had 23 tackles in a 31-28 double-overtime loss to Lancaster in 2008, and two performances by 2014 graduate Dylan Weigel, who had 22 tackles in one game and 20 in another during the 2012 season.

“(We were) getting a lot of three-and-outs, so you’re not on defense so much,” coach Nate Hillerich said of the game against Jerome. “When you only give up two first downs, (he was) literally making just about every tackle.”

Giardina ranks fourth on the program’s all-time tackles list with 195, behind Weigel (389), 2007 graduate Clay Brown (227) and 2010 graduate Matt Ferguson (204).

Giardina has started every game since the beginning of his sophomore season and also plays a key role on special teams because of his tackling abilities.

“He’s a really smart kid, does really well in school, and he’s one of those kids that could play any position,” Hillerich said. “He’d probably be one of our top three running backs. He can play anywhere on special teams. He’s one of the guys we want down there to make tackles.”

Giardina is part of a defense that features two Division I college recruits in Tyler Potts (Ball State) in the secondary and Alex Williams (West Virginia) on the line.

Although the 6-foot, 195-pound Giardina doesn’t have any scholarship offers, he has been receiving interest from a group of schools that includes Duquesne, Robert Morris and Ohio Dominican.

His older sister, Megan, is a 2013 North graduate who was a second-team all-state setter in girls volleyball as a senior and played for Clemson and Dayton.

His mother, Anita, was Pickerington Central’s girls track and field coach in 2004 and is a teacher at North, while his father, Chip, was a safety and wide receiver in high school growing up in Pittsburgh.

Giardina saw time in the secondary earlier in his prep career before moving to outside linebacker and then to an inside spot.

According to Hillerich, he’s the perfect fit for the role of run-stopper.

“We’ve built our defense around having speed, and he played safety coming up, so it just gives us tremendous speed on the field,” Hillerich said. “We try to keep him covered up, which allows our backers to make plays. We keep the (offensive) linemen off him. That way, he can run around and make tackles.

“(Giardina’s) a kid that leads by example. He doesn’t say a ton, he’s not a guy that’s going to yell at people, but he’s always going to do the right thing. If he does say something, you know it’s telling them exactly what needs to be done.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek