First-year Opelousas Catholic football coach Dane Charpentier quipped his defense may not exactly look the part of a top-flight unit when they arrive at the stadium.

But once you’ve had a chance to watch them operate with their determined effort and cohesive play your perspective changes quickly.

“We’re not going to scare anybody when we get off the bus,” Charpentier said. “We’re not frail, but we’re not what I call a big high school team. We have a few guys that play on the defensive line that have great motors.”

A year after advancing to the Division III state quarterfinals, Opelousas Catholic, which hosts Sacred Heart-Ville Platte at Donald Gardner Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday, realizes to replicate another deep postseason run the Vikings will lean on the their defense — especially early this season.

It’s easy to see why.

OCHS returns 10 starters, four seniors and four juniors, with first-team All-District 5-2A selections Caleb Vidrine (senior linebacker), Justin Tate (senior free safety) and Ryan Richardson (junior tackle) serving as the unit’s foundation. Junior end Caleb Theriot was a second-team choice.

“We have a lot of guys that have been there for a while, so we can rely on each other,” Tate said. “We all know our assignments.”

When Charpentier, the team’s offensive coordinator for several seasons, rattles off some of the defining characteristics of his defense, experience and effort top the list. He also talks about expectations for a group he believes will continually develop under former McNeese State coach Tommy Tate, this year’s defensive coordinator.

“The best part about it is they all realize they still can get a lot better,” Charpentier said. “We have some high effort guys who can make some things happen. Our main focus is to get better every week, and I think those kids have bought into that.”

Charpentier said he realizes the importance of buzzwords such as determination and resolve and the role they can play in a 4-2-5 system built more on speed and aggressiveness instead of sheer size.

Richardson and Theriot typify an interior front that averages 200 pounds, while the linebackers and secondary range from 175 to 195.

“Since we’re not the biggest, speed and technique are the main things we focus on,” Vidrine said. “We take pride in that and the physicality. That’s the nature of the defense. Also, just knowing how each other plays and being one unit out there.”

Vidrine’s 112 tackles were tops for an OCHS defense that allowed 18.6 points and recorded two shutouts during the regular season. He also led the team in interceptions with five, while Tate, the nephew of the Vikings defensive coordinator, increased his career interception total of nine with two more last week.

“We always try and pick each other up,” said Tate, a four-year starter. “The mindset of the defense is to get that quick three and out, because if you can break that team’s spirit and keep their defense on the field, it gives your offense more opportunities to score points.”

There was no better example of all three phases working in concert than in OCHS’ season-opening 40-12 victory over Port Barre last week.

Not only did Tate intercept a pair of passes, but strong safety Zach Hebert blocked two punts, and the Vikings created a total of seven turnovers that created several short scoring drives.

Vidrine, who doubles at running back, triggered a 279-yard rushing attack with 12 carries for 151 yards and three TDs followed by Aaron Miller (10-63) and quarterback David Labbe (9-55), who is also a standout linebacker.

“We played good but obviously there are some things we can correct,” Vidrine said. “Overall, we did what we wanted to do. We stopped them early. Going into every game our goal is to try to shut out the other team or keep it to as low as possible.”