It started two years ago inside the University of Miami football program. Hurricanes’ defenders would sprint off the field after forcing a turnover and immediately seek out a $100,000 chain with the team’s logo laced in diamonds.
Miami dubbed the flashy piece of jewelry the “Turnover Chain.” The trend has spread to other college programs and now even to high schools. Among them is Desert Vista, although the Thunder’s chain prices out at something less than one hundred grand.
“We’ve all been wanting to do it. My original idea was to get a championship belt,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “I think it goes along with our dog-pound mentality. It’s a blue-collar chain and it works good for us. Our kids get excited for it.”
A conversation among the coaches in the office one day led to creation of Desert Vista’s “Big-Play Chain.” At first, it was an idea meant to motivate the Thunder’s defensive line – nicknamed the “Dawg Pound.”
It quickly spread to the entire team.
“We thought that it was an energy that should be for the entire team,” Desert Vista defensive line coach Derek Kennard, Jr. said. “Instead of a sack chain for us, we turned it into a big-play chain for the entire team. It’s something fun for us to do.”
The idea was put into motion by assistant defensive line coach Jake Swingler, who designed the chain and had it made by a family friend.
The Desert Vista logo is made of two pieces of sheet metal, which were cut and molded together to form the “DV.” From there, a bicycle chain was used to hold it up and go around player’s necks. Swingler then painted it to match the school’s colors, navy blue and gold.
“The players love it,” Swingler said. “Anything to get the guys hyped up is a good thing. Now they are fighting to get turnovers and make big plays.”
Running back and defensive back Colby Humphrey has been on the receiving end of the chain multiple times. The junior rushed for 515 yards and four touchdowns as a change-of-pace back. He also made 10 receptions for 206 yards and another score.
On defense, Humphrey has accounted for 27 tackles and an interception.
Humphrey admits that he thinks about the chain in game-changing situations. The thought of receiving it is motivational.
“Sometimes, when it’s crunch time, you think, ‘Let’s get that Big-Play Chain,’” Humphrey said. “You never know, when you make a big play it could save the game. I’m all about the chain. I love the hype. It gives me energy.”
Thunder senior defensive lineman Brett Johnson, however, does not buy into the hype of sideline props. The University of California commit prefers to do his talking on the field, although he does enjoy being recognized for making a big play.
“It feels good but I don’t subscribe to a lot of the hype that comes with things like that,” Johnson said. “But it’s nice to feel recognized after I make a big play.”
At 6-foot-4, 271 pounds, Johnson has been virtually unblockable. The senior has accounted for 60 tackles, 14 of them for a loss, and a fumble recovery.
His play, along with others on Desert Vista’s stout defensive line, played a major part in Desert Vista’s 9-1 record and No. 3 ranking heading into the first round of the 6A playoffs against Chaparral at 7 p.m. Friday at Thunder Stadium in Ahwatukee. The Thunder was 5-5 a year ago.
The Thunder’s talent across its defense shut down opposing offenses all season, making it a no-brainer for the coaching staff to provide them with extra motivation. It paid off for the offense, as well.
“We just need to do the same things we have been doing,” Humphrey said. “We bond together as a team. We are all so close and if we keep doing that, we will be fine.”
Given its success, does the “Big-Play Chain” receive a makeover next season?
“I’ve got some ideas for a new chain next year,” Swingler said with a smile. “But that’s all I will say. For now, this one will stick with us.”