Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
By Erik Jacobsen
St. Edwards defense provides a lesson in what teamwork is all about.
The Green Wave entered the season lacking size and experience on defense, but that hasnt stopped the unit from becoming the areas stingiest squad, statistically speaking.
Going into Saturdays showdown against Mendota (6-4) in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs, St. Edward (8-2) boasts a defense that is holding opponents to 10.7 points per game. The 107 points allowed by the Wave this season is more than 50 points fewer than the next area team.
Those accomplishments seem even more impressive when it is taken into account that St. Edwards defense returned only four starters from last season and primarily uses a group of 12 players who average about 180 pounds.
So what is the key to success? Coach Mike Rolando says it is all about the players understanding the teams system.
All the guys are very coachable, Rolando said. They understand their assignments within the defense and they dont try to make too much happen. They understand that their job may not be to make tackles, but to contain or to not let receivers behind them.
The big thing is they understand each others roles and they count on each other to get the job done. Theyre not selfish and they dont go outside of their own discipline to try to make plays.
Rolando admits that the defense was a big question mark coming into the season.
Senior defensive tackle Derek Porto, junior defensive tackle Evan Finnane, senior linebacker Jon Keokanlaya and senior safety Sam Pozezinski were the only returning starters for the unit, meaning there would be several new faces at every level of the defense.
It didnt hurt that the incoming junior class was fresh off an undefeated sophomore campaign, but questions still remained.
Any time you make the leap from the sophomore level to the varsity level its a huge disparity in the speed and the physicality of the game, Rolando said. We were hoping theyd be able to play at this level, but when they make that jump you just never know.
It didnt take long for the juniors to assert themselves and take on leading roles.
Junior linebackers Luke Duffy and Mark Sink rank as the teams top two tacklers with 90 and 79, respectively. Junior defensive end Zack McQueen has a team-high seven sacks while junior cornerback Ryan Johnson and junior safety Sean Richmond are tied for the team lead in interceptions with two apiece.
We knew that our defense was going to mainly be made up of juniors, said Sink, the son of Hampshire defensive coordinator Rod Sink. We knew we had to step up and play big and play for our seniors. We didnt want to let them down.
Junior cornerback Matt Brockner (44 tackles) is another key piece to the puzzle along with Finnane, who is the only junior on the team in his second varsity season. Finnane has 54 tackles, six sacks and six forced fumbles.
Given the production of the Class of 2012, its safe to say defense wont be a major concern going into next season.
Luckily were at this point where were in November and were not thinking about next year yet, Rolando said. But in the back of your mind you do catch yourself thinking That (junior-dominated defense) does bode well for the future.
Rolando adds that the success of the juniors is in part due to the leadership provided by the teams seniors, who also play an important role.
Keokanlaya (73 tackles), Porto (four sacks) and Pozezinski (11 pass deflections) have all stepped up their games this season. Meanwhile, senior defensive end Kevin Danikowski has taken his game to a whole new level.
Danikowski didnt get much playing time last season, but he doesnt come off the field this year. In addition to his 64 tackles and five sacks on defense, he also starts at offensive tackle.
Senior linebacker Bobby Waclawik (58 tackles) is yet another important contributor for the Wave, which gets a boost from the scouting and preparation of defensive coordinator Marc Rusinko and the rest of the coaching staff.
Coach prepares us well, Porto said. We always change things up depending on what the offense on the other team does, and we watch a lot of film to get ready.
St. Edward allowed a season-low 69 yards in last weeks win against Chicago Uplift, which marked the first playoff victory in program history. The Wave hasnt allowed more than 29 points in a game this season, and in its eight victories it hasnt given up more than 14 points.
Along the way St. Edward held three opponents scoreless, including back-to-back shutouts in Weeks 2 and 3. Not since 1984 had the program accomplished such a feat, which proved to be a sign of things to come for a Wave team that is setting the bar higher than ever this year.
We strive to get a shutout every game, Keokanlaya said. We want to set an example and play hard-nosed defense every time out.