Success on the gridiron starts in the trenches, and usually people think of the offensive line when they hear that.
But the same holds true on the defensive side of the ball as well, and the Sterling Golden Warriors credit much of their success so far this season to the guys on the D-line.
Sterling (4-1) has held opposing offenses to 63 points in five games, and 35 of those came in the Warriors’ lone loss to St. Francis in Week 2. The points allowed are by far the fewest among Western Big 6 teams, 26 points fewer than the next team on the list, Moline.
The Warriors have pitched back-to-back shutouts against Alleman and Geneseo, and coach Jon Schlemmer says the big guys up front are a big reason why.
“They’ve been really good the last couple of weeks, for sure. Really all season, just playing on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage is such a big thing for us,” Schlemmer said. “It’s a group that we talk about every week, when the game is won, it’s won on the line of scrimmage, and when we’ve been successful, we’ve been able to play on their side and that’s because of our D-line.”
There are six players who rotate in on the defensive line for Sterling, with three playing most of the snaps and three more doing an effective job when they sub in. Senior Javier Luna anchors the unit at nose guard, and junior Kendric Muhammad and senior Christian Beasley also see a lion’s share of the snaps. Seniors Chase Ullrich and Anthony Spears and junior Lucas Austin come in when the other guys need a break, and Schlemmer says there’s very little drop-off in the effort or execution.
Beasley likes the fact that the D-line gets to set the tone for the defense, and use physicality to do it.
“Once one of us gets a heavy hit, it’ll trigger all of us to know that we’ve got to step up and make big plays as a defense,” Beasley said. “The D-line, having new guys from last year step up, and then Kendric being new, it’s just fun having them out here.”
Muhammad is in his first season with the Warriors after moving in from Plainfield East, where he was a starter as a freshman. He’s been impressed with what he’s seen so far from his teammates in the trenches.
“Javy just does his job really well. He controls the middle, doesn’t get blown back, and he takes on double-teams really well. I really respect that, because I used to play nose too, and it’s a really tough position,” Muhammad said. “Beasley, he’s really quick. He gets to the ball fast, and he can get in the backfield fast. He gets to the ball, he does his job, he contains his gap.
“I think our D-line is athletic. We get in good stances and we fire off the ball quick. We just pretty much work hard to find the ball and go to it.”
Beasley describes Luna in similar terms, and is equally effusive in his praise of Muhammad. He also likes the fact that each of them have different strengths to play to, and bring a unique ability and talent to the position group.
“Javy’s just more physical, brings heavy hits. Kendric’s strong too, and he’s got speed like I do. Javy, he’s fun to be out there with,” Beasley said. “It’s good to have that group, because we can all do different things, and we can show offenses some different things and show what each of us are capable of.”
While Schlemmer and his assistant coaches appreciate what the defensive line brings to the table week in and week out, he also says those guys’ defensive teammates are just as pleased with the work they’re doing up front.
Everybody in the locker room knows it’s the D-line that locks down the line of scrimmage and helps open things up to make things easier for the guys in the back end.
“I think if you talk to our linebackers, they’d be the first crew to tell you how well the guys are playing up front,” Schlemmer said, “because when they can get pressure and they can make things bow to the outside, it just gives our kids the opportunity to run and really make some nice plays.”