After giving up 45 points in his team’s District 5-4A Division I loss to Stephenville on Oct. 26, Brownwood head football coach Sammy Burnett heaped praise on the Yellow Jackets’ defensive front seven.
“The best part of that team (Stephenville) in my opinion is the front seven on defense, and they’re going to win games for them the rest of the year,” Burnett said after coach Greg Winder’s Jackets limited the Lions’ offense to 20 points and a negative 11 yards rushing.
Burnett decided to try and attack the SHS defense through the air, with quarterback Tommy Bowden throwing an astounding 48 times. The Lions gained 337 yards, but the Jackets intercepted two of his passes and prevailed by a 25-point margin.
That game turned out to be the only time in the last four wins that the Jackets gave up more than two touchdowns. The only other exception was Stephenville’s 32-15 district loss to highly ranked Waco La Vega on Oct. 19.
The Jackets did not allow a touchdown in their regular-season finale, a 31-3 win over Gatesville.
Overall, SHS has scored 298 points and gave up 192. But 103 of those 192 points allowed were given up against the three top 10 teams that accounted for the Jackets’ losses. That comes to an average of 14.8 points allowed in the other six games so far, for a team that has put up 33.1 points per game on offense.
This marks the second year that Cody Moore has been the defensive coordinator for the Jackets.
Winder bragged on the the way the defensive players run to the ball.
“What impresses me is when they get there with an attitude, and you don’t see a lot of missed tackles. They tackle real well. They play with a lot of passion.”
Not only do the Jackets fly to the ball and often leave their feet to make spectacular diving stops, they also end up with several players around the ball carrier by the end of each play.
NOW THE NUANCES
Moore switched the Jackets to the 4-2-5 defensive scheme he learned while playing football at TCU under Horned Frogs’ head coach Gary Patterson.
With a year of learning the new defense behind them, and with a talented class of seniors, the time spent in practice can be spent on nuances rather than the basic nuts and bolts.
As juniors, that group got a season and a half’s worth of playing time when the team posted a 12-3 record and reached the Class 4A Division I state semifinals in 2017.
“A lot of them have grown up — emotionally and physically,” Moore said of the experienced defensive unit, which featured six returning starters this year. “They have gotten bigger, faster, stronger.
“The biggest thing is knowing the ins and outs of the defense. They’re very aware of what’s going on on the field.”
The starters on defense are Pacen Parker and Dylan Garber at the end positions, Tyelir Brown and Jonathan Gutierrez at the tackle spots, Blu Caylor and Quentin Walker at linebacker, Victor Moreno, Chase Carrillo and Gage Graham at safety spots, and cornerbacks Cody Storrs and Nathan Diedrich.
With an average of 60-65 snaps per game, quality substitutes rotating in are also a key factor in keeping everyone as fresh as possible.
“We rotate quite often. We’ve got depth. That’s another thing that helps us,” Moore said, spotlighting Daniel Luna at tackle, Colton Accomazzo and Austin Stidham at end, Kason Phillips at strong safety, and Payton Kimple at cornerback. “They’re all getting significant reps.”
BUILT FOR SPEED
With most of their regulars weighing no more than 240 pounds, speed is the name of the game for the Jackets.
“The main thing we play with is a lot of speed,” said Moore, who works with assistant coaches Nolan Vosburg and Brad Wisener to help oversee the defensive unit. “We don’t have massive pluggers. Our guys were built for speed. Our front four and even our linebackers use speed well.
“The whole philosophy of the tacklers is to get to the ball and give them your best shot. They take a lot of pride in that every day. They work on that constantly.”
While mobility is a major factor for the defense, they can also muscle up on opposing offenses as well.
“Those guys, they like being physical, No. 1,” Moore noted. “At the same time, they hate the feeling of failing. The thought of the other team scoring angers us. (It’s) just the competitiveness they have.”
The Jackets have not only been stingy in giving up points in their victories, they’ve also been productive in the scoring department.
Nathan Diedrich, Gage Graham, Blu Caylor, Payton Kimple and Colton Accomazzo have all scored a touchdown while playing on defense. The team has 13 interceptions, and eight fumble recoveries divided among eight players.
“You preach getting turnovers, but you don’t preach getting touchdowns (to the defense),” Moore said. “It was amazing. I had never experienced anything like that, and the kids love it.”
Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Gutierrez, a three-year varsity letterman, said that seeing the defense score points is always fun.
“It feels very good,” Gutierrez said. “We’re always tired of practice, but it’s well worth it staying after school, and it shows on the field
“From summer and two-a-days, we all connected really well. The bond has been very good.”
YOUNG COACH CONNECTS
Moore, who just turned 33 years old this week, said he feels the bond he and the other coaches have formed with the players has been key to the team’s success.
“We really try to develop a good relationship and explain that we really do care about them and we would do anything for them,” Moore said. “When I first got this job, my No. 1 goal was to start developing a relationship with my guys and have something more than football. It slowly developed, and it’s getting better. I want them to know I’m there for them, out of football — one phone call away.”
Junior linebacker Quentin Walker, a two-year varsity letterman who is second on the squad with six sacks and is third in tackles with 83, said, “It’s awesome being out there with my brothers and playing hard, playing physical. We know we’re doing our job, playing fast, playing physical. Every week, we’re going to get better — faster and more physical.”
Caylor leads the team in total tackles (117) and in quarterback sacks (7.5). Graham is second with 100, and has a team-leading three interceptions.
Moore thinks the defense can improve in the playoffs.
“I think there’s still a lot of room for growth,” Moore said. “The last couple of games, I’ve seen some guys really show up and I’ve been really impressed with them.”