Led by safety Bobby Nichols and linebacker Max Mannting, The Dunham School’s defense is a big reason the Tigers are 6-1 and 3-1 in District 6-2A.
Led by the two seniors, Dunham’s defense has given up just 28 points in its past four games. That includes forcing five turnovers in a 34-0 win over East Feliciana. Dunham’s starting defense has given up just one TD in district.
“We expected to be pretty good on defense,” Dunham coach Neil Weiner said. “We didn’t expect to shut out East Feliciana. We’ve got a pretty good sized defensive line. Our linebackers and secondary have played well.”
Dunham’s toughest challenge comes Thursday night when the Tigers battle No. 8 Madison Prep (7-0, 4-0) at Memorial Stadium. The Chargers are averaging 41 points a game in district.
Mannting (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) leads Dunham in tackles with 36. He has 20 assisted tackles and four forced fumbles. He started his junior season at defensive line and started playing linebacker later that season.
“We tried Max at inside linebacker because he’s athletic, moves well and has good feet,” Weiner said. “He’s a force and every week he’s gotten better. He’s a run stuffing linebacker.”
“Playing linebacker allows me to find the ball,” Mannting said. “At the end of last year, I was hesitant to go downhill. We really worked on that. The practice is starting to pay off now. I’m going downhill and making as many plays in the backfield as I can.”
Dunham defensive coordinator Randy Leindecker said the team has bought into the multiple defensive philosophy.
“We’re really playing with a lot of confidence,” Leindecker said. “Max is a very aggressive player. We moved Bobby Nichols from corner to safety this year and he’s a fierce competitor and good cover guy.”
Weiner said Leindecker is an excellent defensive coach. “He really teaches the kids how to prepare,” he said.
“We really like our coaches and hang out with them away from football,” Mannting said. “The coaches help us set goals for each game, and usually we exceed the goals. We want to play fast on defense and get all 11 hats to the football.”
Nichols has 15 solo tackles and 12 assists. He has two interceptions and is considered the team’s best open field tackler. Abel Duhon is another defensive back to watch.
Nichols, who had four interceptions in 2014, said he enjoys playing safety alongside Josh Matthews.
“Playing safety gives me more freedom to play the entire field and the ball,” he said. “We want to pressure the quarterback. We play with a lot of heart.”
Both players said Madison Prep will be their toughest challenge so far this season.
“Madison Prep has great athletes all around,” Nichols said. “We’ve got to be committed to giving 100 percent every down. It’ll come down to who wants it the most.”
“Madison Prep has a lot of Division I players on their roster,” Mannting said. “We’re going to have to play our game and play tough.”