Jim Brady began his athletic career at St. Augustine Prep known more as a wrestler than a football player.

He said he was attracted to the school by its reputation for strong academics and also by his relationship with former wrestling coach Joe Melchiore, a South Jersey legend in the sport.

Brady still is a good wrestler.

He's a lot more than that as a football player.

"What struck me this season was just how dominant he was," St. Augustine coach Mark Reardon said of the team's middle linebacker. "He absolutely took over games for us defensively."

Brady, who led St. Augustine to a 9-1 record and the No. 1 spot in Top 25 rankings, is South Jersey's defensive player of the year.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Brady made 116 tackles, including 22 tackles for loss, for a team that allowed just 61 points in going 9-0 against South Jersey foes.

Beyond the statistics, Brady set the tone for the Hermits with his physical style of play.

"I love to hit people," Brady said. "That's always been my way of playing football. That's why I love playing linebacker."

In a sense, Brady brought that wrestling combativeness to the football field, helping the Hermits develop a defense that played with a rare combination of intelligence and intimidation.

"He played with such physicality," Reardon said. "It really was amazing, how physical he was."

St. Augustine senior defensive back A.J. Baxter, a Rhode Island recruit, called Brady "the heart" of the Hermits defense.

"We all looked up to Jim," Baxter said. "Before every game, I would tell him, 'Jim, you have to set the tempo out there with your hitting,' and he would go out and do it.

"When he made a hit, you could hear it. You knew it was him."

Brady grew up in Mullica Township and played youth football for the Egg Harbor City Crusaders, with several members of Cedar Creek's South Jersey Group 2 championship team.

"That would have been my [public] high school," Brady said of Cedar Creek.

A top student, Brady has drawn recruiting interest from Ivy League programs as well as a few schools in the Patriot League.

Reardon said Brady "left a legacy" because of his tenacious play and his leadership.

"That's what we're going to have to replace, and it won't be easy," Reardon said. "The teams we play against, they are very competitive with us. They view it as a big game when they play us.

"You can't let your guard down or you're going to get beat. Jim never allowed that. Whether it was a hit early in the game, a tackle when we needed it, whatever, he made sure we played with the physicality we need to answer those challenges."