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Leveraging Leadership: 2017 Dragon Defense

Oct 08, 2017 12:52PM ● Published by Mike

2017 Defensive Captains L to R: Matty Werner, Jacob Doddridge and Ryan Thompson.

by Justin Thomas

A Carroll defense that surrendered an average of just 18.8 points per game will have some rebuilding to do after graduating nine all-district performers, including an astounding eight first-teamers, from its 2016 campaign.

Fortunately for the Dragons and defensive coordinator Tim Wasson, Carroll has plenty left in the cupboard, including three additional all-district players.

Senior linebackers Matty Werner (89 tackles, two forced fumbles) and Ryan Thompson (23 tackles) were second-team all-district choices, while defensive lineman Jacob Doddridge is coming off a season in which he posted 54 tackles and three sacks. The latter is weighing collegiate options this fall and could very well end up with an Ivy League program.

Doddridge, as well as Werner and Thompson, have embraced their roles as senior leaders and defensive captains on the team. As such, they are relishing the opportunity to help bring along many of Carroll’s first-time varsity players of which there are many. The 2017 squad includes four sophomores amongst their starting roster. Starting as a underclassman at Carroll is somewhat of an accomplishment in its own right —something these three leaders know well as they share their experiences with their younger teammates.

“The guys before me did a great job of helping me out with that,” Doddridge said. “That’s something we’re really trying to do, because we have a lot of young guys and they don’t necessarily know the expectations we have, or in some cases, they just don’t even really understand what the coaches are trying to tell them. So we’re really working on that and maintaining our focus during practice.”

Three-year starter Thompson, meanwhile, is another leader of the defense and has been honored with donning the “Backers” towel that is passed down to a linebacker each season.

“It’s something we do within the position,” he said. “You look at it, and it has guys going way back. Last year, it was Jacob Copeland and after the year the players just talk and decide who is going to get it the next season.”

Other key pieces in the front seven are senior Brock Gaskill, juniors Alex Kingston (DL) and Michael Parrish (LB) and sophomores Quinten Bunten (DL) and Graham Faloona (LB).

Sophomore defensive back RJ Mickens — the son of former NFL player Ray Mickens — took advantage of an increase in playing time due to an injury to Oklahoma signee Robert Barnes last season and parlayed the chance into first-team all-district honors after recording three interceptions.

The sophomore is considered a blue-chip recruit in his class and gives Carroll one of the premier secondary players in the area.

Mickens has plenty of support, however, including two-way player and senior Darryl Crockett, seniors Hayden Hayes (cornerback), Dale Belnap (safety) and Joe DeVincenzo (cornerback) and sophomore Jake Fex (safety).

Belnap and Hayes are confident in how the secondary has come together throughout spring and fall camp, and that the position — and defense as a whole — has placed an added emphasis on creating turnovers this season.

“We didn’t do as much of that last year as we would have liked to and it could have made a big difference,” Hayes said.

“We want to be a defense that gets to the ball,” Belnap added. “The defenses that get to the ball and make plays win, so that’s the plan.”

As noted, the Dragons lost a ton of talent from their 2016 defense resulting in the squad starting an unprecedented number of sophomores in a season opener.

Given the defensive effort against a physical and formidable opponent, Hal Wasson and the Dragons are understandably excited about the prospects of the unit.

“In our scrimmage against Arlington, I was really impressed with the way they ran around to the ball and played with a chipiness and attitude,” he said.

That continued in the opener against Broken Arrow where Carroll’s defense stayed true to its mantra of “stop the run” and limited its opponent to 190 total yards, including just 31 rushing on 27 attempts.

“Our experienced guys really came through for us,” Hal Wasson said. “Jacob, Ryan and Matt really toed the line for us and it was a good night for the defense. They were really hungry.”

Limiting a power football team bodes well for Carroll’s prospects in district, as the Dragons will have to contend with the likes of standout running backs and offensive lines at Trinity (Courage Keihn) and Marcus (Justin Dinka), among others.

“There are some great players in our district, but we’re going to be ready for them,” Thompson said.

“The Trinity game is the one I am looking forward to most,” Doddridge added. “They’re a great program and that’s the week when the coaches are really going crazy and everyone is fired up.”

But not surprisingly, for secondary member Crockett, it’s the regular-season finale against Hebron that he has circled.

“They have incredible receivers over there and a great quarterback in Clayton Tune,” he said. “Guys like Jaren Mitchell and Trejan Bridges and a transfer from Coppell named David Leonte … I know a lot of those guys from playing growing up and I can’t wait for us to get out there and match up with them.”

Despite the abundance of talent in 5-6A and on Carroll’s non-district schedule, another goal for the unit according to Thompson is limiting opponents to 21 points or fewer.

The Dragons checked that off in their opener against Broken Arrow after doing so eight times in 12 games a year ago.

Should that trend continue, and as the Dragons grow up and gain camaraderie and experience, they should only improve.

Wasson believes that, combined with a consistent offense, his defense will help keep Carroll on the path to success.

“I’ve said it before, but I really like this group,” he said. “We have strong leaders and I’m excited about the personality of our guys and the team and the blueprint that is being laid out.”

That foundation is already beginning to show and Doddridge is hopeful that by the time the postseason rolls around, Carroll will not only be competing for the 18th consecutive season, but will be primed for a deeper playoff run.

“We have a very challenging schedule, so we should definitely be prepared,” he said. “The first goal for us as seniors is to get passed the second round (of the playoffs). That’s what it’s all about. Everyone talks about how crazy it is when you get deep in the playoffs and Carroll has a tradition of doing that.”

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