The dominant defensive lines always earn their own fear-inspiring nicknames.
New York Sack Exchange. Fearsome Foursome. Purple People Eaters.
The quartet at Mountain View High has scored their own nickname, although “The Hobbit Squad” is not as daunting as their predecessors.
But the group is still harassing offenses around the Treasure Valley. And their dominance has helped the Mavericks to the first 5-0 start in school history and a unanimous spot as the state’s top-ranked 5A team.
The Shire would be proud.
“What they lack in height, they make up for in girth,” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “They’re pretty wide, all of them. And strong. All of them are really strong and explosive.”
“The Hobbit Squad” derives from the stature of the Mavericks’ 4-3 defensive front. Junior tackles Cameron Skaggs (5-11, 270 pounds) and Alex Hester (5-10, 225), as well as junior end Daniel Boots (5-10, 220), won’t entice any captain of a pickup basketball squad.
Teammates already called Hester, listed generously at 5-10 and who can grow a beard at a moment’s notice, a Hobbit. And when senior defensive end Kody Walker (6-3, 235) saw his linemates dwarfed on film one day, he coined the moniker, “The Hobbit Squad.”
Most defensive linemen would prefer a tougher tag than fictional J.R.R. Tolkien characters known for hairy feet and living in underground homes. But the group has embraced it.
“We think it’s funny,” Skaggs said. “We like to build off that. We’re born short, and so we’re making a living with it.”
Benedick said not to confuse them with cute and cuddly creatures. He said they embody the lunch-pail attitude required of linemen in his defense. They won’t receive much fanfare on Friday nights, but they make the whole defense go.
“They have to take on double teams and wrong arm pulls, and things like that that don’t get any glory,” Benedick said. “Other guys make the tackles and make the plays that show up maybe in the paper or on the news. But they’re one of the main reasons why we’re having as much success on defense as we are.”
The Mavericks enter Friday’s home game against Vallivue with the 5A classification’s best scoring defense at 11.4 points per game.
College coaches seek out giant defensive linemen who can plug holes just by holding their ground. But the shorter stature of “The Hobbit Squad” works in their favor, allowing them a leverage advantage over taller offensive linemen and a quickness edge.
“Their low center of gravity helps them out a bunch,” said Walker, whose height and stature as the defensive captain earned him the nickname “Gandalf.” “They’re little bulls out there.”
A short frame means shorter arms, so “The Hobbit Squad” won’t lead the league in passes batted down any time soon. But the group continues to produce. Walker leads with 26 tackles, all four have two tackles for loss to their name and Jordan Ioane, who rotates in and at 6-1, 255 is called the “Orc,” owns two of the group’s three sacks.
“I don’t have the reach,” Hester said. “So if the quarterback is throwing the ball, I can’t reach up as high and knock it down. But I still get more power with shorter legs and am able to drive.”
The Mavericks’ offense leads all 5A schools at 53.4 points per game, but Mountain View remains a team built around a defensive identity. And after reaching, and losing, in the state championship for the first time last fall, “The Hobbit Squad” leads a new quest to prove the Mavericks aren’t a flash in the pan.
“We’ve had a little bit of success this year, but we need to keep improving because we haven’t met our full potential,” Boots said. “We’re not where we need to be right now. So we just need to keep getting better each week, and by the end of the year we’ll be playing our best football.”