The Middle Creek defensive coaches and their players spent a lot of time communicating last year – and that wasn’t always good.
Coach Mike Castellano was converting to a base 3-4 defense last year and there was a learning process.
“We spent a lot of time on terminology,” Castellano said. “We would revert at times to the old terminology and we really had to explain why we were doing certain things.”
By this spring, though, the players and the defensive staff of Jon Trump, Andrea Jacobs, Kendall Ray, Craig Weinberg and Fred Dunston were on the same page.
There is still a lot of communicating, but this year the talk involves coordinating the defense on each play.
The result has been a defense that is allowing 66 rushing yards per game and which has propelled the Mustangs to a 2-1 overall record. Middle Creek is allowing 2.2 yards per rush despite giving up some late rushing yardage in last week’s 46-14 win over Smithfield-Selma.
“It is a team concept,” Castellano said. “We have been able to match up well against other teams’ offenses.”
Castellano said the Mustangs have changed their defense in each of the last seven games.
Garner coach Thurman Leach said after Garner’s season-opening 21-16 victory over Middle Creek that the Mustangs’ defense was among the most impressive he had seen. The Trojans rushed 39 times for 100 yards in the win.
The Mustangs are turning heads with personnel that is not all that impressive to look at.
Nose guard Josh Guest is 5-foot-8, 210 pounds. Right tackle Anthony Mitchell goes 6-2, 210. Left tackle Terry Patterson is a horse, 6-3, 270 pounds and freshman reserve Zayvon Powell (5-11, 285) and junior backup Jayson Brice (5-10, 230) add bulk. Senior Mason Hilbert (6-1, 200) is more in the mold of the starters.
The group emphasizes quickness. Castellano wants the linemen to deliver the first blow, not absorb it. The group uses various slants and alignments to create opportunities for penetration and they help keep blockers away from inside linebackers Warren Messer (6-0, 220), a junior, and sophomore Brendan Weinberg (5-11, 215).
The inside linebackers make all of the defensive calls, which determine alignment and slants. The inside linebackers move well laterally, but Castellano said one of the keys is being able to communicate and make sure the team is aligned properly.
Outside linebackers Tom Hartshorn (5-10, 180) and Josh Hunter (6-0, 205), who share the outside spots with King Kiaku (6-0, 200), were inside linebackers last year and know all the calls and sets.
Castellano said the outside linebackers are hybrid players who can drop into pass coverage, can interact with the linemen or rush.
The key to the success of the front seven, though, is communication. The defense is based on playing as a unit. “Everybody practices. Everybody should be on the same page,” Castellano said.
Cornerback Terrence White (5-8, 165) is the most talented defensive back that Castellano has coached, he said. Yorick Sands is a great athlete who uses some of his basketball point guard skills to see the overall defensive picture.
The most valuable defender might be safety Jacob Pearl (5-8, 160). He always seems to be around the ball. Junior Alex Sutton (6-1, 185), Isaiah Herring (5-10, 165) and Grayson Smith (5-7, 160) also get time in the secondary.
“We’re still busting some plays,” Castellano said. “We’re emphasizing that if we have a chance to make a play, we need to make it. We dropped an interception against Garner that could have been a big play.
“But for the most part, our defense is doing a good job.”