Sep 30, 2016 03:15PM
● By Ashley Pape
There is quite the buzz surrounding Southlake Carroll’s defense. And rightfully so. The powerhouse program is known around the state for producing high-powered offenses led by big-name quarterbacks. But the strength of this year’s team might actually be its defense.
Despite the loss of all-district defensive back Obi Eboh (Stanford), the defensive unit returns an enviable nine starters. With the return of so much talent including the top-tackling tandem of Robert Barnes and Barrett Buck at safety, this is the most experienced Dragon defensive unit in well over a decade.
Last year, the Dragons gave up 23.2 points per game, but with so many seasoned veterans back in the fold, Southlake Carroll has some lofty expectations heading into the 2016 season.
“As a defense, we are trying to be the best,” says senior defensive lineman Luke Jeter. “First of all, we are trying to beat Katy’s defense as far as points allowed. A lot of the stuff we’ve been doing is based off what we saw last year from them. Obviously, they did really well. We want to beat them. And our ultimate goal is to win a state championship.”
This is a tall order considering that last year’s Katy defense allowed just 3.8 points per game, recorded 10 shutouts and helped the Tigers win a state title. Just how good were they? Many pundits believe Katy’s defense was the best in Texas high school football history.
Southlake Carroll head coach Hal Wasson isn’t in the prediction business, but he believes the Dragons can also have a historic year on the defensive side of the ball.
Along with experience, Wasson cited team camaraderie and athleticism as key reasons why the Dragons defense could take the state by storm.
“I’m extremely excited about our defense,” Wasson says. “They got a lot more confidence during camp. They have great continuity. The one thing about our defense is being consistent. We have to be very disciplined on defense.
“If we can do those two things, it’s going to be a great year. That goes hand in hand. It’s also about the preparation mentally and physically.”
Wasson adds that it all starts up front. In order for the Dragons to truly find success on the defensive side of the ball, the players in the trenches must be able to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Southlake Carroll runs a 3-4 defensive scheme, which prioritizes defensive linemen getting a strong push up front and allowing its linebackers to step up and make plays in the box.
The tandem of Jeter, who holds a handful of FCS offers, and Ryan Miller should be one of the best in the district. Jeter recorded 55 tackles and three sacks last year, while Miller notched 53 tackles and five sacks.
The position group will also receive a boost from talented junior Jacob Doddridge. The former linebacker is moving down after a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him rack up 41 tackles and two sacks.
“The defensive line really strung together some good workouts in the summer,” Wasson says. “The way I look at it, we have five starters even though we only have three spots. I look at the depth there and the confidence. I expect a lot of great things from those guys. They have the experience, and they all worked really hard.”
Confidence is key. Jeter reiterated the fact that the group really came together this offseason and feels they can dictate game flow.
“We have a lot of experience,” he says. “What we gain from that is confidence. We try to use all of our confidence to motivate the defense and help them get better as well. We always give it our best. I’m excited about being a leader. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time now. I try to lead by example.”
At linebacker, the Dragons return Grant Phelps (34 tackles), John Miscoll (33 tackles) and Ryan Thompson (29 tackles) and also have some depth at the position.
“We have great competition at our linebacker spots,” Wasson says. “We have to be great tacklers because our defensive front is going to put the pressure on, and they have to be there to clean it up.
“Preparation should be very intense. That should help build them up and help them get a lot better.”
The group also made a huge addition this summer as outside linebacker Jacob Copeland transferred back to Southlake Carroll after spending a year at Sage Hill in California, where he lined up at wide receiver. Copeland was named the District 7-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore in 2014 after recording 69 tackles and four sacks.
Though Copeland might see some time at wide receiver, he is expected to return to outside linebacker and make an impact for the Dragons.
“As of right now, I’m an outside backer,” Copeland says. “But I’ll be playing receiver and returning kicks too. I like defense a lot more than I like offense. I like hitting. I’m glad to be back in Dragon Stadium, and I’m ready to play.
“I think this is the best linebacking corps we’ve had out of my time at Southlake. We have a lot of seniors. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.”
And that secondary isn’t too shabby, either. The Dragons bring back three of four starters on the back end in Oklahoma safety commit Robert Barnes (105 tackles, 7 PBUs), senior safety Barrett Buck (89 tackles, 1 INT) and senior cornerback Zion Sales (33 tackles, 10 PBUs).
The lone newcomer to the defensive backfield is senior cornerback Jacob Murphy, who will be in charge of filling the gap left behind by Eboh.
“Our back end has a lot of experience,” Wasson says. “They are going to play with a lot of confidence. I expect consistency all the way around. Robert is a great leader. I’m excited for Barrett Buck because he’s a returner.
“Both of our safeties are going to make plays versus run and pass and be a big part of our defense. We like our corners a lot.”
If experience is truly an indicator of potential success, then Southlake Carroll should be in store for a big year on defense.
And who knows—they might even give the 2015 Katy defense a run for their money.