The St. Vincent-St. Mary defense is loaded with speed.
It is also full of nicknames.
The Fighting Irish are full of personalities, but the unit that stalks an opponent’s offense might have the most.
Defensive coordinator Marcus Wattley is in charge of this unique group that has helped St. V-M (11-2) advance to a Division III state semifinal game against Dover (11-2) at 7 p.m. tonight at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
Senior Fransohn Bickley and juniors Dante Booker and Aaron Adkins are the only three returning starters from last year’s defense.
“The big thing that we have talked about all summer long and through the season is that we play one way, and that is 100 percent, 100 percent of the time,” Wattley said. “That is how we break our huddle before games.
“We control our effort. We may not be as big as everybody else, we may not be as fast as everybody else, but the bottom line is we refuse to be outworked. Our kids bought into this mindset during the summer and they buy into it before every game.”
They also buy into having a good time with one another and keeping things loose. Collectively, the defense goes by the moniker “D-squad” and each level of the unit has it own nickname.
The Irish defensive line acquired the nickname “Wolf Pack” in a huddle during a summer practice with position coach Rob Brown.
It pays homage to The Hangover, a 2009 American comedy film that was co-produced and directed by Todd Phillips and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and stars actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha.
The Irish “Wolf Pack” features starters Adkins and his twin brother Anthony Adkins, senior Eric Prologo and junior Travonte Junius. Senior Mike Pruiett plays as a reserve.
“We are trying to have fun,” Wattley said. “The games are serious enough. The kids work hard and do what they are supposed to do.”
Wattley, who played outside linebacker at Copley and then at the University of Akron, serves as St. V-M’s linebacker coach.
Actor Mr. T would likely be a fan of the linebackers, who have been dubbed the “A-Team,” in honor of the American television series that ran from 1983-1987. Writers and producers Stephen J. Cannell, Frank Lupo and Brandon Tartikoff created the show that starred George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz and Mr. T.
The Irish linebacker corps includes Booker and junior Newman Williams and sophomore Vince Lockett as starters. Senior Joe Weber logs minutes as a reserve.
“Our most consistent kid is probably Newman Williams,” Wattley said. “He is a middle linebacker. Him and Anthony Adkins are the only two kids who have not missed a play through the whole season. Tony plays nose tackle. Those are two gut-wrenching positions and both have been the model of consistency. Newman is an exceptional football player and leads the team in tackles. He makes the call and checks and gets everybody lined up.”
Booker is the most highly recruited college prospect currently on the defense. He has several Division I scholarship offers.
“How many Bookers will you coach in your lifetime?” Wattley said. “Joey Weber stepped in and had two double-digit tackle games [when Dante missed due to injury].”
Wattley said only the defensive backs don’t have an agreed-upon nickname yet. The secondary goes by “TBA,” but it is certainly not lacking in talent.
Coaches Mark Murphy and Vince Suber oversee a defensive backfield that starts Bickley, juniors Corey Whaley and Nathan Bischof and freshman Tyrece Speaight. Junior Parris Campbell Jr. and senior Jordan Hargrove rotate in as reserves.
“The biggest thing is that they have evolved into really a team defense,” St. V-M sixth-year coach Dan Boarman said. “They play well together and they know each other. They know each other’s moves. We kind of have 11 coaches out there on the field. They know when a mistake is made that they need to correct it.”
Despite playing a difficult schedule, the Irish gave up an average of 16.3 points per game in the regular season and have been better in the playoffs, yielding 14.7 points per game in three wins.
Boarman said this defense is collectively the fastest he has had in his 23 seasons as a head coach. He said his 1999 Copley team formerly featured the fastest collective defense. Wattley was a senior standout on that team that reached a Division III regional final.
“We have 11 playmakers on this defense who fly around to the ball and make tackles,” Wattley. “It is a lot of fun to watch and they are a lot of fun to be around.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.