High school football preview 2013: Defense gaining ground

Three high-profile Division I recruits give defenses hope in a conference recently dominated by offensive stars

rroberts@idahostatesman.comAugust 30, 2013 

Timberline’s Don Hill, Rocky Mountain’s Khalil Oliver and Borah’s Hawkins Mann are three of the top defensive players in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference this season. ON THE COVER: From left to right, Oliver, Hill and Mann. (Photo by Katherine Jones)

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

On most Friday nights, the quarterback who throws the winning touchdown is the first player grabbed when the camera comes around for an interview.

If the wide receiver had to lay out for a catch or wrestle his way open just as time expired, he’ll get in on the glory, too.

Other times, it is a fearless running back leading the way to victory, eating up yards and attention along the way.

They’re the kind of players who gave life to the cliché that every high school quarterback ends up as the homecoming king.

The scene is similar in Idaho, where the most celebrated recruits in recent seasons have been offensive stars like quarterbacks Makena Simis (Montana) of Capital, Chad Chalich (Idaho) of Coeur d’Alene, Tanner Mangum (BYU) of Eagle, Taylor Kelly (Arizona State) of Eagle and Taysom Hill (BYU) of Highland.

Some were homecoming kings, of course.

But what happens when the first three major-college commitments of the season are defensive players?

Rocky Mountain defensive back Khalil Oliver (Boise State), Borah lineman Hawkins Mann (Boise State) and Timberline end Don Hill (Washington) have an answer they’d like to share:

Defense rules.

Since 2009, that hasn’t been the case in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference.

Capital was the league’s top defensive team in 2009, allowing 11.3 points a game in the regular season. Rocky Mountain assumed the crown in 2010, averaging 12.7.

In 2011, Mountain View finished as the No. 1 defense, but lost ground at 15.6 points per game. Rocky Mountain returned to the top in 2012, but slipped even further to 19 points per game.

As offenses evolve and coaches try to squeeze in more plays, defenses have been slow to adapt.

“I believe the trend is offenses are going to continue to be explosive. The more you see it at the college level, it trickles down to the high school level,” Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner said. “Until the defenses at the college level learn how to stop those Johnny Manziel spread offense-type packages, I think that becomes the trend at the high school level.

“Most everybody in high school is scheme-driven, so that’s what makes it so those point totals change.”

Oliver, Mann and Hill won’t argue against the numbers, but they’d like to see defense gain ground in 2013.

“I think the defenses are really stepping it up this year. I think the offenses are going to have to step up their game a lot more as far as their playcalling,” Oliver said.

“A lot of the teams are now starting to scheme against offenses, and we’re not just out there saying, ‘Let’s run cover four.’ They’re actually watching film and they’re deciding, ‘If they line up in this, this is a play they might run so let’s do this coverage, let’s do this blitz.’ ”

Mann believes part of the trend can be explained by defensive coaching strategies.

“It’s trying to apply that don’t-break-just-bend philosophy,” Mann said. “You’ve got these high-powered offenses and a ton of amazing athletes all around the SIC. ... As offenses have gotten better, defenses have had to allow a little bit more just to hold on and pull out a victory.”

In a competitive league like the 5A SIC, sometimes one game — or even one play — can mean the difference between making the playoffs and handing in your jersey.

That’s when a good defense can make or break a season.

“Obviously, defensively you’ve got to be able to make the stops at the right time,’’ Borah coach Darren Corpus said. “If a team is going to be successful this year, they are going to have to make some key stops. Whether it’s a turnover early in downs or it’s that big third-down play that they have to make.

“But the old adage is, ‘Defense wins championships.’ ”

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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