St. Thomas More’s defensive line may not be biggest or strongest out there, but the Cougars’ down linemen may very well end the season being considered one of the best units in Acadiana.
The Cougars starting four down lineman are senior ends Aaron Monrose and Christian Leonard, senior tackles senior Logan Klusman and sophomore Sam Greenwood. Those four are not built like the standard defensive line. None of the four stand taller than 6-foot-1, and the heaviest of the four, Klusman, is only 240 pounds. The other three average a mere 214 pounds.
“Our motto this season has been ‘Grit’,” Leonard said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think we’ve ever lined up against another team that we were the bigger, stronger group. That hasn’t stopped us though.”
“We are very undersized group,” Monrose added. “Every single team we line up against is larger than us. That means we have to come off the ball fast, and that has worked for us.”
STM (10-2) enters Friday’s LHSAA Division II state championship game against Parkview Baptist (9-3) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on a roll. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
The Cougars have won four straight,and during that span have surrendered a total of 28 points.
Yes, two of those games, both shutouts, came against two of the more struggling teams in the area in Opelousas High and Northside, but STM’s defense has been stout in its two first playoff games.
STM held E.D. White to 230 yards and one touchdown in the quarterfinals and the scored a 28-21 victory over crosstown rival Teurlings Catholic last week.
The Cougars did surrender 410 yards and three touchdowns, but it was the team’s pass rush that made the biggest impact. University of Arkansas commit Cole Kelley passed for 317 yards (on 45 attempts) but had no touchdown passes, one interception and was barraged with hits for all four quarters on seemingly every play.
“I think our defense has come a long way,” said STM coach Jim Hightower, whose team is giving up an average of 16 points per game on the season. “Notre Dame marched down the field on us in the jamboree. I think we have made steady progress since then.”
The season started with some doubt for the Cougars defense as the team had to deal with season-ending injury to returning starter junior defensive tackle Hunter Clay, who would have anchored the line coming in at 5-foot-10 and 270 pounds.
“We lost Hunter, and that was a huge loss,” Leonard said. “He would have been a big help to us, but we worked through it.”
STM managed to absorb that loss with the improved play of both Leonard, who saw limited action as a junior, and Greenwood, who had to step in and fill Clay’s starting spot.
“I think that is a credit to the coaching,” Leonard said. Everybody on the team is trying to get better, and that comes from Coach Hightower and Coach (Terry) Tidwell and the rest of the staff. When it is your chance to step up, then you step up.”
STM may be small in comparsion to other teams, but Hightower wouldn’t trade his group of defensive lineman for anyone else.
“This group plays really hard the whole ball game,” Hightower said. “All those guys have a high motor. They play just as hard on the last snap as they did on the first snap. That is something special.”