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Posted: November 10, 2011 8:23 p.m.

Defense is young but talented

At first glance, 2010 was a wasted year for Alcovy football. What positive could possibly come out of a 1-9 season? Then 2011 came around and things turned around in a hurry. The reasons are many. But at the head of Alcovy’s transformation are very much those struggles the Tigers went through — rather what came out of them.

“You now, we really didn’t have any choice,” Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. “In high school, one of the biggest things you deal with is depth. We were forced to go with so many young guys because of all the injuries last year. 

Hoffman is a traditionalist who prefers to give freshman a year of seasoning at the junior varsity level regardless of talent.  The thought process is sound — give young players who wouldn’t see much time at the varsity level anyway, as much playing time as possible. Unfortunately injuries decimated the Tigers early and often and Alcovy quickly went into survival mode.

“I would have rather let a lot of those kids play JV to prepare for varsity but certain things you can’t control,” he said. 

With all the injuries, players who would have probably never seen the field or seen it on a limited basis, were thrust into the lineup. Putting together your best starting lineup took a back seat to putting together a viable one. 

As a team, the Tigers were forced to grow up in a hurry. That was never more apparent on defense. So Hoffman did what he had to do and turned to several young players.

Things didn’t go to well as the results show. But the early playing time gave a crop of ninth graders a head start on 2011 and it has paid dividends. Entering tonight’s game (through nine games), two of the Tigers three leading tacklers, Okon Godwin and Tristen Payne are sophomores. Of Alcovy’s top six defenders four are tenth graders. 

“We knew they were going to make mistakes. We just hoped they would learn from them and get better and I think that’s what you’re seeing now,” Hoffman said. “Of course you want to play with your most experienced guys. But that didn’t happen. But they were able to gain some experience and that has helped us this year for sure.”

At the heart of that group are defensive lineman Ryan Adams and Curtiss Benton. The tandem reminds some of Eastside’s dynamic duo of Sheldon Rankins and Shaquille Huff. Like Rankins and Huff, Benton and Adams are big, strong and fast. While Hoffman scoffs at the idea his two lineman are on that level, he certainly sees a comparison.

“Well, I don’t know if they’re going to be that good but certainly we have a good group of young players to build around with those two included,” Hoffman said. “Only time will tell if they can be that good. But they’ve learned a lot and gotten better all year.”

Alcovy’s defense may be young but the raw talent is there. The biggest challenge will be channeling the talent of a group still learning the ropes. The Tigers make plays on defense. But they’ve also been susceptible to giving up big plays.

“The hard part is you don’t want to take away their aggressiveness. You want them to play assignment football so it’s a balancing act,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman knows the youngsters will make their fair share of plays. He also knows mistakes are part of the game, especially against a talented Tri Cities team. How he handles the ups and downs after each situation will likely dictate how well the defense responds.

“A lot of times what you have to do is, when they make that aggressive play or make that big play you have to tell them they made a great play but remind them to play disciplined,” Hoffman said. “When they get beat because they may have been beaten by a better athlete, you have to remind them that’s why we teach technique and to play flat instead of upfield and those sorts of things.”

While Alcovy as a whole lacks playoff experience, the offense is lead by seniors Tre Sorrells and Devon Edwards and the Tigers’ leading receiver Kenard Murry is also a senior. Quarterback Cornell White is a seasoned junior. But with so many underclassmen at key positions on the other side of the ball, the defense is the wild card heading into the biggest game of the season.

“When I look at how young our defense is I can’t help to think, ‘what are some of these kids going to do’,” Hoffman said. “It’s getting dark early and it’s playoff time and it’s not something these kids have done before. But I feel good about them and I know one thing. They’ll play hard.” 

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