Luke Sterneker knew football was his passion from the moment he first put on a uniform as a first-grader.
The fire remains for the Grandview Heights High School senior linebacker as he works to help the Bobcats have a strong finish to the season.
Through five games, Sterneker had a team-leading 51 tackles and one fumble recovery. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder led the team with 84 tackles last fall, and also had three sacks and one interception.
"I remember when I was on my first intermediate team in the first grade," said Sterneker, whose team is 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the MSL-Ohio Division. "I was so young and the pads were so big, but it was great. It's still like that 11 years later."
That enthusiasm shows on the field as he directs the Bobcats' 4-3 defense.
"I think instinct is Luke's best quality," defensive coordinator Mike Lanza said. "He has really good instincts on the field, and that's the kind of thing you can't teach.
"He's kind of like the quarterback of our defense, telling everyone where to line up and all of that stuff. He reads his keys really well, and when it's time to lay some wood, he can lay wood."
Sterneker is a three-year starter who has become the face of the defense. His teammates look to him to set the tone.
"Luke brings leadership and stability to our defense and he's been a big part of what we have been able to accomplish in the past three years," coach Jason Peters said. "He's a smart kid who understands what we want to do and he gets kids in the right position like (2016 graduate) Rhodes (Jump) did for us a couple of years ago.
"Luke plays physical and he plays so smart. He takes time to figure out what the other team is going to do and does what he needs to do to stop that. He just goes out and does his job."
Sterneker plays the role of weak-side linebacker on the field. Off the field, he has played several roles in the school's musical theater. The change allows him to be a hard-nosed ruffian on Friday nights and "Prince Charming" the rest of the week.
"I decided to give it a try and I played Prince Charming last spring (in 'Into the Woods')," Sterneker said. "(Football and theater) don't have a lot in common, but I really enjoy them. I can't be in the fall production because of football, but we are doing 'Shrek' in the spring. That's something to look forward to."
The Bobcats travel to league-leading London on Friday, Oct. 6. The Red Raiders improved to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the MSL-Ohio by defeating Liberty Union 28-6 on Sept. 29.
Grandview defeated London 27-21 last season and is 4-0 in the series since 2013, when the teams were grouped in the MSL-Ohio.
"London runs a spread (offense) with a single running back in the backfield," Sterneker said. "They always play us tough. I remember playing out there two years ago and we won (41-27) and Rhodes (Jump) scored five touchdowns. That was a great game."
The Bobcats are coming off a 24-12 loss Sept. 29 at Whitehall in league play
"Keeping composure throughout the season can be tough," Sterneker said. "It can be a challenge mentally to stay focused. The mental challenge is definitely harder than the physical challenge.
"You have to always stay focused and always be hustling. You need 11 hats going to the ball in practice and always give 100 percent. There's a time to goof off and a time to work, but when you go to practice, it has to be another day at the office. You have to go to the office to prepare for the opponent that week."
Sterneker hopes to continue going to "the office" in the coming years by playing at the next level. He has offers from Capital, Ohio Northern, Otterbein and Wittenberg, among others.
"I just love football and want to play it as long as I can," said Sterneker, who plans to major in marketing. "I love the team aspect. You're with these guys for most of the year and become like a family. You're a family working toward a common goal."