For Georgia Tech's Jay Finch, a former Kennesaw Mountain High School standout, that attitude and tenacity was developed from his playing days as a Mustang. And he's turned it into an opportunity to enter his sophomore season as the Yellow Jackets' starting center
"He turns it on and off," Finch's high school coach, Scott Jones, said of his former pupil. "He can be cool, calm and collected on the field, and then puts a different set of armor on when he gets down in the trenches. He plays rough, and only the best survive down there - and he knows it.
"You have to have some mean cats to run that option offense (at Georgia Tech), so they got the right guy."
Though there is little outlet for such tenacity in football during the offseason and spring practice, Georgia Tech's T-Day spring game today will give Finch and his teammates a chance to play in a setting resembling the one they will face in the fall.
"I'm ready to hit guys on another team," Finch said, "but the spring lets you know what you need to work on. For me, I play up and play down to my opponents. If he stands up, then I stand up. And I need to focus on staying down."
While the fundamentals of stance and technique for an offensive lineman are critical, the game becomes far more cerebral at center. Along with harboring a mean streak, Finch has to know his opponents' tendencies, the exact positioning of his fellow linemen and which gaps to open every down.
Last year, Finch was able to rely on two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference center Sean Bedford to make those calls. But now his teammates will be looking to him to do the same after Bedford graduated following last season.
"I've definitely got some big shoes to fill with (Bedford) being a two-year all-ACC player," Finch said, "so I've got something to live up to.
"Having Bedford next to me (last season), if I didn't know my assignment, then he would know it inside and out because he was very smart and that was his thing in always knowing. That's one of the things that we have tried to challenge ourselves to do this year - always knowing what do and how to do it. We have the physical ability, but you can't play without your head."
Finch earned experience last year with three starts and playing time in six other games. However, those starts came at left guard, since many centers around the Division I ranks don't start until they become upperclassmen.
Finch has been pressed into service because Tech's offensive line has become thin at several positions, and the coaching staff believes in his physical and mental capabilities. He will not only have to know all of his assignments, but those of his teammates.
"It's a lot, but I feel ready, though," he said. "It was the same way in high school. Your team would count on you, and you would either step up to challenge or you don't."
Now, Finch will have the added pressure of making the calls at the line.
"It's become my responsibility now," Finch said. "It's the focal point of the offensive line because we run a lot of plays both inside and outside (of the tackles). We run inside first, and outside second. With the fullback to the pitch man, being the center I have to be able to call the defense from center to guard (prior to the play)."
Finch showed a propensity for picking up new concepts when he was at Kennesaw Mountain, which ran a Wing-T offense, but occasionally implemented the spread offense under Jones.
Along with having to make those adaptations, Finch had the intelligence, graduating with a grade-point advantage of greater than 3.5, according to Jones.
"(Finch) worked hard, and that's the big thing about Jay," said Jones, now an assistant coach at North Cobb. "Jay is getting where he wants to be because of his worth ethic and because of what he did in the weight room. Obviously, he's at Georgia Tech and maintained a high GPA.
"On and off the field, he took care of business and knew what he had to do to make it to that level. In high school, you never know if a kid will be successful. Kids that might have gotten recruited and didn't get into the system, or the college coaches that that recruited them and didn't do their homework."
Though Kennesaw Mountain has yet to reach the postseason since the program's inception in 2000, Finch was a part of the best four-year span in the Mustangs' history as they finished with a 22-18 record between 2005-08.
But programs are marked by more than wins and losses, and the people that come from them can give them meaning.
"The bragging rights of any coach or school are the people that go off and do great things," Jones said. "All you have to do is pull a catalog of famous people that have graduated from there. Who are some of the guys that played for you that went on to do good stuff?
"I've got a kid at Georgia Tech that's doing some amazing things. I tell them about what he's done and what kind of impression he is making on me and on the people from the community. He was part of that school. Even though it was 10 years old, he was part of what built that place. We had a lot of athletes that have left an impression - girls and guys - but he's one of them today that is making an impact in college and really giving Kennesaw Mountain some good footage there because he deserves it and Kennesaw Mountain deserves it. It goes full circle for everybody."
Though Finch plays with a mean streak in the trenches, he has a mentor's attitude off the field. Earlier this month, he visited his old coach at North Cobb and talked to the next generation of high school students.
"He was over here about two weeks ago to speak to some of our classes here," Jones said. "He talked to some of our weightlifting classes about the college life of an athlete, playing football in college and the differences between high school and college. He shed a lot of very good insight that, once you get to that level, everyone is good. You have to re-impress people and work even harder to excel.
"I'm more proud of him coming in here and talking about character and hard work than what he is doing on Saturdays."