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ONALASKA — Nathan Lubinsky spent the last two seasons establishing himself as one of the top linebackers in the MVC.

The Onalaska High School junior has become the type of force that opposing coaches train players to find before each snap, because they know if he’s unaccounted for, he can wreak havoc on an offense.

Coach Tom Yashinsky knows this, and he knows how valuable Lubinsky is to have on the field, not only for his physical talents, but for the smarts he brings to the game. Yashinsky’s goal is to make Lubinsky’s job easier this season, and to get even more talent on the field when the Hilltoppers are on defense.

So Lubinsky will line up at safety when Onalaska starts its season Friday at home against River Valley and try be the same disruptor he’s been.

“It’s been interesting,” Lubinsky said last week on the switch to safety. “It’s a lot more coverage, different responsibilities in coverage. It’ll be interesting to learn as I go.”

Yashinsky, whose team was in a three-way tie for the MVC crown last season and won it the year before, said the decision to move Lubinsky to the secondary came about as he realized the depth of talent the team had at linebacker.

As good as he is in the front seven, Yashinsky reasoned, Lubinsky could do even more if offenses can’t get offensive linemen blocking him.

“Typically, teams don’t scheme to block safeties. And if they do scheme to block a safety, they’re putting a wide receiver there, and wide receivers, in general, aren’t great blockers,” Yashinsky said. “So we thought if we could get our best defensive player unblocked by scheme, it allows him to really roam free and make the plays.”

While there will be new things to learn by playing in the secondary, Yashinsky isn’t worried about Lubinsky picking up the techniques of the new position.

“He’s so intelligent about the game. He’s always got good questions, and he gets what he’s looking at, which a lot of kids in high school don’t,” Yashinsky said.

“Some kids make great plays just based on athleticism, but when you’re the type of athlete that he is, and you understand what’s going on in front of you, it just increases your production. That’s helped him out a ton.”

Still, how well Lubinsky picks up his defensive back responsibilities won’t be known until it’s tested in a game. Neither of Onalaska’s nonconference opponents — River Valley and Mosinee — threw the ball particularly well last season, averaging 164.4 and 124.5 yards per game, respectively, through the air.

The position change may also help the Hilltoppers on offense as well.

Lubinsky was the team’s primary running back last season, and the pounding of playing both sides of the ball in the highly physical nature that Lubinsky does adds up. Yashinsky has slowly let Lubinsky practice more as he recovers a hip flexor injury that flared up this summer.

Alex Franzini, a senior who had 354 yards and five touchdowns on the ground last season, will be splitting carries more equally with Lubinsky as well.

“We’ll do everything we can to get those two in the backfield,” Yashinsky said.

With Lubinsky playing in a different spot this season defensively, opposing coaches will still game plan for him and try to find ways to slow him down.

But he’s ready for the challenge of continuing to be an impact player on both sides of the ball.

“I’m excited to be one of the guys that can deliver a hit at the safety position. Get a full speed start, that’ll be pretty cool,” Lubinsky said. “Just learning everything on both sides of the ball, what my coaches teach me, and being a perfectionist. I want to do everything right.”

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Colten Bartholomew is a reporter and columnist for River Valley Media Group. Colten is the college sports coordinator for the La Crosse Tribune.