Middle Creek's defense standing tall thanks to better communication

tstevens@newsobserver.comSeptember 16, 2013 

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Middle Creek’s Brendan Weinberg (52) stops Garner’s Julius Barnes (15) after a gain in the first quarter on Aug. 23 at Garner Magnet High School.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

The Middle Creek defensive coaches and their players spent a lot of time communicating last year – and that wasn’t always good.

Coach Mike Castellano was converting to a base 3-4 defense and there was a learning process.

“We spent a lot of time on terminology,” Castellano said. “We would revert at times to the old terminology, and we really had to explain why we were doing certain things.”

By this spring, though, the players and the defensive staff of Jon Trump, Andrea Jacobs, Kendall Ray, Craig Weinberg and Fred Dunston were on the same page.

There is still a lot of communicating, but this year the talk involves coordinating the defense on each play.

The result has been a defense that is allowing 66 rushing yards per game and has propelled the Mustangs to a 2-1 overall record. Middle Creek is allowing 2.2 yards per rush despite giving up some late rushing yardage in a 46-14 win over Smithfield-Selma.

“It is a team concept,” Castellano said. “We have been able to match up well against other teams’ offenses.”

The Mustangs face a different test Friday when they play pass-oriented Wakefield, which is 3-0 and averages 39.7 points and 225 passing yards per game.

There will have to be some adjustments, but Castellano said the Mustangs have changed their defense in each of the past seven games.

Garner coach Thurman Leach said after Garner’s season-opening 21-16 victory over Middle Creek that the Mustangs’ defense was among the most impressive he had seen. The Trojans rushed 39 times for 100 yards in the win.

The Mustangs can go big or small along its defensive front.

Nose guard Josh Guest is 5-foot-8, 210 pounds. Right tackle Anthony Mitchell is 6-2, 210. Left tackle Terry Patterson is 6-3, 270 pounds. Freshman reserve Zayvon Powell (5-11, 285) and junior backup Jayson Brice (5-10, 230) add more bulk. Senior Mason Hilbert (6-1, 200) is more in the mold of the starters.

The group emphasizes quickness. Castellano wants the linemen to deliver the first blow, not absorb it. The group uses various slants and alignments to create opportunities for penetration and they help keep blockers away from inside linebackers junior Warren Messer (6-0, 220) and sophomore Brendan Weinberg (5-11, 215).

Castellano said the inside linebackers move well laterally, but just as important, they communicate well. Messer and Weinberg make the defensive calls that determine slants and stunts.

Outside linebackers Tom Hartshorn (5-10, 180) and Josh Hunter (6-0, 205), who share the outside spots with King Kiaku (6-0, 200), were inside linebackers last year and know all the calls and sets.

That sort of communication is key to the defense’s success. “Everybody practices. Everybody should be on the same page,” Castellano said.

Behind the front are players like cornerback Terrence White (5-8, 165), who Castellano said is the most talented defensive back he has coached, and Yorick Sands, a great athlete who uses some of his basketball point guard skills to see the overall defensive picture.

Safety Jacob Pearl (5-8, 160) always seems to be around the ball. Junior Alex Sutton (6-1, 185), Isaiah Herring (5-10, 165) and Grayson Smith (5-7, 160) also get time in the secondary.

“We’re still busting some plays,” Castellano said. “We’re emphasizing that if we have a chance to make a play, we need to make it. We dropped an interception against Garner that could have been a big play.

“But for the most part, our defense is doing a good job.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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