When your offense scores 41.8 points per game, it can be hard for the defense to grab any attention.
Accolades are not the primary concern for the University High defense, though. The Cubs would rather grab an opposing running back or quarterback instead of headlines.
“They all like each other,” UHS defensive coordinator Andy Martin said. “There’s something to be said for that.
“Nobody worries about who makes plays or gets tackles. They work together. They care about stopping the other team and winning.”
The sixth-seeded Cubs (12-0), off to their best start since the late 1990s, face what figures to be their stiffest challenge yet. University travels to Shreveport to take on No. 3 Calvary Baptist (10-2) in a Class 2A quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. Friday at Calvary.
The Cavaliers have some notable numbers. Running back Brandon Wilson has rushed for 1,506 yards and 20 touchdowns. Quarterback Nik McCarty had 2,250 passing yards and 30 TDs, but suffered a season-ending knee injury. Safety Weston Steelhammer is set to get the start at quarterback.
Regardless of who plays in the Calvary backfield, crunch those numbers along with the ones put up by the University defense and it brings one conclusion: Some bone-crushing collision should be expected.
The Cubs have forced 30 turnovers — 15 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries — in their second season in Martin’s 4-2-5 system. The first-team unit is giving up less than 10 points per game.
Ends Hayes Stewart and Tim Williams are part of a unit that features seven players rotating in and out on the line.
“I think we all understand what we’re trying to do on defense a lot better,” Stewart said. “And along with that, we’ve all gotten bigger and stronger, which definitely helps us make plays.
“These last two playoff games we’ve played really well. Being more physical, especially up front, is something we had to learn. It’s made us a better team.”
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Stewart, a senior, and Williams (6-3, 230) provide bookends in more ways than one. Williams, who sat out last year after transferring from Glen Oaks, is a junior who has a team-high 102 tackles with 12 sacks. Stewart has 44.5 tackles, including 3.5 sacks.
William Shirley (5-11, 217) and George Bevan (6-3, 225) are the starting tackles. Bevan (41 tackles) also plays some at end, while Nate Haas, Davis Bankston and Ben Karam rotate in at defensive tackle.
Hunter Bankston (61 tackles) and Steven Sensley (64.5 tackles) are the linebackers. Free safety Jarrod Franklin (95) and strong safety Chisa Egbelu (75 tackles) are next. Tristan Cooper and D’Vante Dotson are the cornerbacks. William Armstrong and Bo Bankston also play safety.
“The key to what we do is conditioning,” Williams said. “You have to be in shape, and we know if we can’t make a play, somebody else will step in and do it.
“We play like we have one heartbeat. We trust each other, and we work well together.”
The ball-hawking Egbelu provides a microcosm of the what the Cubs defense is all about.
At 5-6, 160, the senior is not the biggest player in the secondary, but that doesn’t stop him from making plays.
“We’ve been taught by coach Martin to look for what we can do on every play,” Egbelu said.
“If I see one of my teammates taking down a player, I want to be there in case something happens. Maybe it’s a fumble or maybe the guy breaks a tackle. We all have each other’s backs.”
As Martin watches his players go through their drills, he can’t help smiling.
“Calvary is going to challenge us,” Martin said. “Today’s world is so much about me, and this team has kept the team and family attitude. I believe that’s why they’ve been successful.”