PALMETTO -- You can't see it, but it's there.
Josh Layhew feels it every time he hits the weight room or lines up against someone taller and thicker than he is.
It's the chip on Layhew's shoulder, put there by everyone who told him he was too small to be an athlete, too small to play any sort of role for a team that came within a yard of playing for a state championship last fall.
"They said I wasn't going to play football at all. When I reached varsity, I was going to sit the bench," Layhew said. "That was the type of thing that drove me."
Layhew is one of the forces driving a Palmetto team that takes a 6-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in Class 5A to Wauchula Hardee on Friday night for a pivotal District 10 game.
He's a co-captain and defensive end.
Layhew also is listed as 6-foot-1 (he said he is 5-11) and 215 pounds, a size typically not associated with a starting lineman.
But nothing about Layhew is typical.
"He should not be doing the things he does," defensive coordinator Nate Varnadore said. "He does not care who's bigger than him, he does not care what the media says -- he believes he can outwork the guy across from him -- every play."
Early in Layhew's career, size wasn't a problem. He stood 5-11 as an eighth-grader and was supposed to get bigger, especially because his brother is 6-1 and uncles and grandparents on both sides of the family top out at around 6-3.
"I was projected to be 6-3," Layhew said. "But I never gained those few inches. Everybody in the family is kind of tall. ... We've got the size, I just got the gene skipped. That's what happened to me. But I've got to make up with speed, and I've got to make up with heart.
"I wanted to hit the gym and work out as much as I can, get as big as I can, so I could actually prove that I am something."
Layhew made the varsity roster as a freshman during Raymond Woodie's last year coaching at Palmetto.
He started six games as a sophomore, including a playoff game against Cape Coral, and was a fixture in the starting lineup last year, tallying 22 sacks as the Tigers made the state final four for the first time since 1986, and has eight sacks this year.
"When he came up, we were like, 'In a year, this kid is going to contribute,'" Varnadore said. "We didn't know to what capacity. But he lived in the weight room, he did all the speed, strength and conditioning. ... He plays with heart and passion and intensity, and you cannot coach what he does."
This season, Palmetto has relied on Layhew for more than what he does on Friday nights. The Tigers lost eight defensive starters from last season and were looking for leadership from Layhew and linebacker Austin Cavey, who shares captain duties.
Neither has disappointed, Varnadore said.
"They saw the good that came out of (last year), they saw what we could do," Varnadore said. "Him and Cavey, they're holding our guys to that standard."
Layhew's desire to quiet the skeptics is emblematic of Palmetto's plight: Few believed the Tigers would be nearly as good as they were last year after losing so much talent to graduation.
But a win tonight puts Palmetto at 3-0 in the district and on the cusp of a third straight postseason berth and second straight district championship.
"We're always there," said Layhew, whose mom graduated from Hardee and whose dad graduated from Palmetto. "We're that itch you can't scratch -- that's essentially what we are. We take pride in that. ... We always want to be in the fight. If we can't win it, we want to make sure you know that we were there. Our mentality is if we throw a punch, we want you to feel it. So that's what we want to put out on the field."
Though his mind is on senior year, Layhew hopes to play football in college. But he's concerned about his academic welfare, too, and hopes to study law.
So it's a good thing Stetson University, which has its own law school, has shown interest in Layhew.
Stetson hasn't played a football game since 1956 but will restore its program next fall while playing in the Pioneer League.
But wherever he goes, expect Layhew to take his chip with him.
"I want to prove everybody wrong. I don't want to let them be right," he said. "That's the little motor in the back of my head, the little voice -- 'Don't let them be right.' "