Tigers’ De­fense Shapes Up

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - SPORTS WEEK - By Mark Humphrey

PRAIRIE GROVE — Head coach Danny Ab­shier and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Craig Laird have been busy fine tun­ing Prairie Grove’s de­fense for the sea­son opener Tues­day at ri­val Farmington.

Four de­fen­sive starters re­turn from a unit that al­lowed only 13 points-a-game last sea­son when the Tigers ad­vanced to the state semi­fi­nals.

De­fen­sive line­men

Se­nior DeMarkus Cooper (6-0, 249) is big and mo­bile. He can play ei­ther de­fen­sive end or de­fen­sive tackle. Cooper also plays bas­ket­ball demon­strat­ing nim­ble foot­work.

“He’s big enough, we can switch him back and forth,” Laird said.

Se­nior Will Hawkins (6-4, 335) clogs up the mid­dle at de­fen­sive tackle along with class­mate Lan­don Wall­drop (5-10, 296), who started last year on de­fense and played a lot.

Ju­nior de­fen­sive end Lane Dalton (5-9, 188) is one of the Tigers’ faster de­fen­sive line­men.

“Ide­ally, he’s out there with one of those other guys,” Laird said. “We’ve got a big, heavy hole-plug­ger and we’ve got a guy, who can run.”

Se­nior Gar­rett Hel­temes (6-0, 178) pro­vides depth at de­fen­sive end as does ju­nior Ethan Guen­ther (5-11, 224) along with ju­nior Day­tona Pink­ley (5-5, 175). Ethan Guen­ther may also play line­backer. His younger brother, sopho­more Gra­ham Guen­ther (6-0, 207) is also avail­able.

Out­side Lineback­ers

Se­nior out­side line­backer An­thony John­son (5-8, 189), a 3-year starter, is the most ex­pe­ri­enced Tiger de­fender. He ac­counted for 93 tack­les last year.

“He’s smart, he’s prob­a­bly got as much pop to him as any­body,” Laird said. “And he’s got the speed to go with it. He makes a lot of high­lights on our de­fense.”

Out­side line­backer Kaine Caswell, a 5-9, 148-pound ju­nior, was im­pres­sive last year see­ing ac­tion when Prairie Grove had a big lead in late-game de­tail.

“He’s just a foot­ball player, he rel­ishes con­tact,” Laird said. “He did some im­pres­sive things as a late-game backup.”

Ju­nior Couper Allen (5-9, 155) makes up for his lack of size in how hard he plays and by be­ing coach­able. Allen has a nose for the ball.

“He’s a re­ally tough kid with a high foot­ball IQ ,” Laird said. “He’s fun to coach.”

Ju­nior Matt Jones (5-5, 128) is a tough kid and hard worker clas­si­fied as a team player by coaches.

“Jones is re­spect­ful, a per­fec­tion­ist, all the time ask­ing ques­tions try­ing to get things right,” Laird said.

Ju­nior Ethan Scates (5-7, 155)

lacks ex­pe­ri­ence at the var­sity level. He didn’t play as a sopho­more, but the coaches are glad to have him back on the field. Scates is a leader in a youth group and coaches want to see Scates as­sert him­self on the foot­ball field.

“He was one of our hard­est hit­ters in ju­nior high,” Laird said. “He was a ball-hawk. He’s a great Chris­tian kid. Once he gets more ex­pe­ri­ence within our sys­tem, we’re look­ing for big things from him.”

Inside Lineback­ers

Se­nior Dustin Bur­ton (5-11, 211) switches from weak-side to strong-side inside line­backer. Laird says Bur­ton is what a de­fense wants in a mid­dle line­backer with a blue-col­lar, team-first work ethic and a nose for the ball.

Laird em­pha­sizes, “It’s a new side, not a new po­si­tion. He’s got to learn the tech­nique. He’s done well with it.”

“He’s as tough as they come, he’s hard-nosed,” Laird said. “He does not com­plain. He’s a team guy.”

Se­nior Clay Spinks (5-10, 138) is a tough kid with good speed. His strength is his speed and hit­ting while his weak­ness is he plays at a light weight. Yet, that doesn’t af­fect his de­sire to close on a ball-car­rier and make a tackle.

“He just loves to hit, he’s very ag­gres­sive,” Laird said. “Last year, he re­ally gained our at­ten­tion play­ing scout-team de­fense. He was al­ways learn­ing all he could. He lined up where he needs to. He’s quick and he likes to hit.”

Jared Harger (5-7, 154) is one of the team’s strong­est and fastest sopho­mores. He has im­pressed the coaches in drills.

“We’re def­i­nitely go­ing to look for some help from him on spe­cial teams,” Laird said. “He has po­ten­tial to be as good a high school line­backer as he wants to be.”

Coaches have moved sopho­more Gra­ham Guen­ther (6-0, 207) back and forth from de­fen­sive end to inside line­backer.

“He’s a big, strong kid, who runs good,” Laird said. “His strength is his size. That re­ally makes him a foot­ball player.

Ju­nior Cameron Cox (5-10, 174) is ex­tremely coach­able and may have the high­est IQ among the Tiger lineback­ing corps.

“He’s prob­a­bly our fastest line­backer speed-wise,” Laird said. “He’ll con­trib­ute, too. We feel like when he goes in we don’t miss a beat.”

Ju­nior Chuckie Ed­wards (5-9, 205) moved to Prairie Grove from Ozark, Mo. Ed­wards showed up for ev­ery Tiger work­out over the sum­mer and the coaches no­ticed.

“He’s learn­ing our sys­tem. He’s got size we re­ally like,” Laird said. “Again, he’s re­ally coach­able try­ing to learn what to do. He’s rapidly made him­self a part of this foot­ball team. We re­spect him for that. He’s go­ing to be on the kick­off team.”

Coaches have high ex­pec­ta­tions and high hopes for ju­nior Ethan Guen­ther (5-11, 224), who may also play on the de­fen­sive line.

De­fen­sive backs

Twins Stone Bryant (5-11, 165), at strong safety/out­side line­backer, and cor­ner­back Collin Bryant (6-0, 172), both se­niors; lead the Tiger secondary.


Stone Bryant missed part of the off­sea­son be­cause of a shoul­der in­jury, but has re­turned. His ver­sa­til­ity en­able him to play safety or ei­ther of two hy­brid po­si­tions at strong safety/out­side line­backer or strong safety/ inside line­backer.

“He had a lot of high­lights last year on our de­fense,” Laird said. “He’s one of the most ath­letic kids we have. He’s a great player for us. We’re ex­cited to have him back.”

Se­nior John David El­der (6-2, 168) can also line up at a hy­brid out­side line­backer/ safety po­si­tion. He’ll play free safety this sea­son after switch­ing back and forth be­tween both safety spots last year.

“He got an in­ter­cep­tion last year for us so we’ve got some ex­pe­ri­ence com­ing back on de­fense for us,” Laird said.


Collin Bryant plays ex­cep­tion­ally tough for a cor­ner­back. Laird de­scribes him as savvy and ath­letic and likes con­tact.

“He can play any­where, he just fits with our unit bet­ter as a cor­ner­back,” Laird said.

Ab­shier likes Collin Bryant’s ten­dency to play smash-mouth foot­ball.

“He’ll hit some­body stink­ing hard with a big ol’ smile on his face, which is a lit­tle bit un­usual for a cor­ner,” Ab­shier said.

Se­nior Tyler Davidson (5-9, 153) spe­cial­izes as a de­fen­sive player, and ac­cord­ing to Laird is prob­a­bly the ath­lete most com­pa­ra­ble to 3-year starter Isaac Dis­ney as a shut-down cor­ner. Davidson did good things dur­ing 7-on-7 com­pe­ti­tion.

“He loves the weight room, he’s maybe the quick­est kid on the team. He likes con­tact, he likes to hit, too,” Laird said. “He moved here in ninth grade. He’s been pa­tient and worked hard. Now he’s fi­nally get­ting his chance to step into the spot­light. He’s kind of a de­fen­sive-guy only. He likes that.”

Se­nior Aaron Pre­ston (5-7, 143) gives the Tigers a third cor­ner­back. He played weak­side safety last year and Laird said mak­ing the tran­si­tion speaks to his ath­letic abil­ity.

“He’s learn­ing a new po­si­tion, he’s a very good ath­lete,” Laird said. “Be­tween those three we feel re­ally con­fi­dent. All three run well. All three are good cover guys.”

Prairie Grove has more depth at cor­ner­back. Ju­nior Ja­cob Wat­son (5-8, 137) and sopho­more Cody Kruse (5-5, 108) train well. Wat­son over­came one of the ugli­est in­juries Laird has ever seen dur­ing ju­nior high.

“Wat­son doesn’t have a lot of size, but he runs well,” Laird said. “He’s a good kid. He likes the weight room. He’s got a lot stronger in his up­per body. He’s hun­gry to get out there. He’s try­ing hard, run­ning hard.”

Kruse plays with a lot of heart and moves well for a sopho­more.

“He’s the kind of kid you want to coach,” Laird said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.