State title game: Hamilton DTs stonewall defenses - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

State title game: Hamilton DTs stonewall defenses

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Posted: Friday, November 25, 2011 2:32 pm | Updated: 3:10 pm, Thu Dec 13, 2012.

It all starts up front, right down the middle.

Entrenched there, inside Hamilton's prolific defense, are two defensive tackles. One who's 6-foot-2, 295 pounds with another two pounds' worth of hair on his head. Jaxon Hood loves to talk and play, and is good at both.

Next to him is Calvin Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 275-pounder with less hair, who doesn't share the same affinity for talking as his neighbor but has been no less a force.

"If you can get through us, more power to you," Hood said. "It hasn't happened so far."

It's here that this year's Hamilton defensive domination begins, but nowhere near where it ends.

In a long line of defensive standouts and dominant seasons, the three-time defending champions will fly around in search of its fourth consecutive championship and 54th straight win when they face Desert Vista on Saturday afternoon.

On that University of Phoenix Stadium field will be a group not short on standouts, but what's become a nearly annual turning over of starting lineups on a yearly basis that have produced similar results.

Even though the Huskies have replaced at least eight starters on defense each of the last three years to begin the season, Huskies defensive coordinator Lane Reynolds said the scheme doesn't change significantly from year to year, only within a given week.

Against Desert Ridge and Desert Vista, the Huskies played man-to-man coverage in the secondary and kept eight men in the box. Against Basha, the Huskies rushed three guys and put eight in coverage against the Bears' passing attack.

They all worked.

The Huskies have allowed 21 points twice this season, and once happened late against Desert Ridge in last week's semifinal when the Huskies had a lead and the defense softened. Hamilton has given up 120 points this season, or 9.2 points per game.

Dobson's T.J. Thomas (226 yards) and Mesquite's Anthony Lopez (156 yards) are the only two individuals to run for 100 yards on the Huskies this season, and both of those games were blowout wins for Hamilton.

Players said it starts with coaching and preparation. Coaches said it starts with players putting in the work. But both know the inherent advantages of having numbers that allow no one to be needed on both sides of the ball.

"It's a good thing to have kids always coming up, starting as freshman and then to JV and on up," said linebacker Nic Henson, who converted to defense from receiver before this season. "Athletes keep coming up and waiting our turn."

Henson, for example, hadn't played defense for a couple years, but he saw his best chance at playing in college on defense, and the Huskies needed help at linebacker.

All he's done is collect 94 tackles, 4 ½ sacks, an interception and three blocked kicks.

"That's not normal," Reynolds said. "Obviously he's not a prototypical 6-foot, 170-pound receiver. He's made that adjustment again and it's been a bright spot for us the whole year."

Reynolds received a stat packet on Tuesday from the team's statistician, which chronicles every game of every season in the school's history dating back to 1998.

Reynolds said no player from this year's defensive unit is ranked among the school's top ten in any statistical category for a single season (tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc.).

"Yet here we are playing in the championship game and playing pretty good defense," he said.

Also unlike other recent Hamilton teams, this year's bunch is built from the inside out because of Thomas and Hood in the middle. With two kids of their size and strength, linebackers behind them don't have to shed blocks from opposing offensive lineman nearly as much. That means they can run around and make tackles at the line of scrimmage while running unblocked because the tackles each occupy two offensive lineman.

Behind them, the defensive backs and safeties, led by Reggie Daniels, Cole Luke and Robert Milus, can worry more about pass coverage because the linemen and linebackers have stuffed opponents' running games with its front seven.

"We demand a lot out of them and they do what's asked," Reynolds said. "If a kid isn't getting it done early we can find someone who will. They're coachable."

They're also rich with size, speed and depth. Three traits that don't appear to be going stale any year soon.

"Whatever it takes," Hood said. "We've gotten the job done so far, but we have to do it one more time."

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