Cibolo Steele’s Mark
Jackson has the speed
to chase down even
the speediest backs.
“Now guys with long arms who are able to cover a lot of
space are really valuable because it’s a space game,” said Col-
leyville Heritage coach Joe Willis. “For a long time, everything
was kind of built from the inside out. Now I think it’s more of an
The building of a defense might start on the outside, with
defensive backs who can prevent big plays, but the inside guys
are still at the core of a defense’s success. That’s where you’ll
find the defensive tackles, and although they play a position
that is usually less glamorous than the ends, they are critical.
In the golden era of the spread offense, they need to make
more plays than ever.
Before the proliferation of spread offenses, many teams
could get by with defensive tackles who were “hunker down”
kind of guys. They were strong and tough and could battle a
blocker or two so the linebackers could make tackles. But
against spread offenses, which can send as many as six
players into pass patterns, those linebackers have more
responsibilities in pass coverage.
“The linemen we get excited about are not the hunker-down
guys. They can’t just occupy a couple of blockers to keep them
off our linebackers,” Wager said. “Now they’ve got to read and
make plays. They’ve got to make tackles.”
Against the spread offense, every defender needs to be a
playmaker. Some defenses use three down linemen (one tackle
and two ends), while others have four (two tackles and two
ends), so a tackle’s responsibilities vary. But the ideal defensive
tackle is strong enough to hunker down, anchor himself and hold
the line of scrimmage even against a double team. He’s also
explosive off the snap and has the athleticism to rush the passer
and can pursue runners and make plays near the sideline.
Daylon Mack, who starred at Gladewater last season and
signed with Texas A&M, could do that despite being more than
300 pounds. This year’s seniors with similar qualities include
Spring Westfield’s Ed Oliver, a 6-2, 280-pound defensive tackle
who last season returned a fumble the length of the field for a
touchdown. Euless Trinity’s Chris Daniels ( 6-4, 300) and Killeen
Shoemaker’s Kendell Jones ( 6-5, 355) also have an explosive
burst that belies their bulk.
Those elite, super-athletic defensive tackles are difficult to
find, of course. They’re so hard to find, Smith said, that colleges
are looking for high school defensive ends that they can
develop into tackles.
Not all high school defensive tackles or defensive ends
can be super athletic, obviously. But what defensive linemen
can control is their fitness, and a different level of fitness is
required in today’s game. The more fit, the more athletic.
“The tempo of the game has changed so much that you’ve
got to be more athletic,” said Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire.
“It’s not that those guys [from years ago] wouldn’t be able to
play. They’d just have to be in better shape.”
“Tempo” is a football buzzword right now as the no-huddle,
fast-paced offenses spread across the landscape. The pace
can wear down a defense, especially at the high school level,
where most teams don’t have a lot of depth. A team’s best
linemen need to stay in the game.
When the philosophy caught fire, however, it quickly turned
into a blaze. And after teams such as Art Briles’ Stephenville
Yellow Jackets, Sam Harrell’s Ennis Lions, Joey Florence’s Denton Ryan Raiders and Todd Dodge’s Southlake Carroll Dragons
won multiple state titles, the spread had lived up to its name.
It was everywhere. It was time for a defensive response.
“The game offensively has evolved so much. The days of
going in a two-tight, two-back set are over for most teams.
It’s shotgun and spread formation,” said Arlington Martin
coach Bob Wager. “On defense, you’ve got to be able to run
sideline to sideline.”
Defenses have changed formations, pulled defenders out
of the box, added players in coverage and worked hard to
disguise their sets to complicate a quarterback’s decision-
making. With an emphasis on speed, hybrid positions have
developed, with safeties playing as linebackers and lineback-
ers as defensive ends.
It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game with the offense, and
defensive linemen are part of that evolution. Whether they
are ends or tackles, defensive linemen are now a little less
brawny and a lot more mobile.
“Everybody’s leaner. They’re still strong and muscular, but
you’ve got to be in shape,” Lancaster coach Chris Gilbert
said. “It’s extremely important to be able to move around
well, and that includes the guys inside the box.”
That’s why it made sense that Madubuike, who made
75 tackles, had 16 ½ sacks and forced four fumbles last
season, was sprinting in the spring. He worked in the weight
room to get stronger and ran on the track to get faster.
Getting more athletic, he said, would get him closer to his
goal on every play: Taking down the quarterback.
“I just try to get to the quarterback any way I can,” he said.
“Whether he’s passing it, running it, pitching it or it’s a QB
read, I’ve just got to get to the football.”
That’s the mindset of most defensive ends, who are often
the most athletic players on the field – or at least have the
most unique blend of explosive speed and strength. Twenty
years ago, a defensive end’s primary task was to stop the
run. While the best ones are still run-stoppers, the No. 1
priority is getting to the quarterback.
Texas high school teams have featured some great defensive
ends in recent years, including Denton Ryan’s Mario Edwards
Jr., who helped Florida State win the 2014 BCS National
Championship Game. Last season, Arlington Martin product
Myles Garrett had 11 sacks for Texas A&M, and although he
was a true freshman, was named the Aggies’ Defensive MVP.
The current crop of top high school defensive ends, including
Cibolo Steele’s Mark Jackson ( 6-3, 215), Houston MacArthur’s
Isaiah Chambers ( 6-4, 237) and Allen’s Levi Onwuzurike ( 6-3,
230), are cut from the same mold. Taller and slimmer than defensive ends of two decades ago, they often look like basketball
players with the way they move on the field. And much like with
hoops stars, coaches talk about the value of their “length.”
Justin Madubuike runs track to improve his speed, which is off the charts
19 FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL TEXAS 2015 READ MORE AT THEOLDCOACH.COM