De-fense! (clap, clap)
Not the cheer, but an actual salute to the defensive stalwarts whose efforts have elevated their teams in the first three weeks of the high school football season. While it’s often the big offensive performances that are easily noticed and get highlighted, defense is as crucial.
There are, obviously, a number of established names throughout the area like Highland’s Jason Chlus and Corey Mullaly from Our Lady of Lourdes. But here we’ll pay tribute to a few of the underrated defensive players — the fellows who have done yeoman’s work for successful teams, but have managed to fly under the radar.
Spackenkill: Kyiev Bennermon
Last Saturday, a Spackenkill slot receiver caught a short pass in the flat then easily stiff-armed two defenders and ran over another as he scooted toward the sideline before being nudged out of bounds inside the 5-yard line. It seemed an unfair mismatch: the Spartans unleashed a 6-4, 275-pound receiver on the Dover defense.
Well, now they know how offensive linemen in Section 9 must feel.
While Bennermon has been moonlighting as a receiver this season, he has retained his day job on the line. The defensive tackle, with his quickness and power, “is a nightmare,” Spartans coach Clinton DeSouza said. Bennermon is able to consistently push the pocket, creating pressure up the middle, and he has two sacks despite facing a number of double teams.
Spackenkill is 2-1, including a shutout of Chester two weeks ago. While quarterback Camron Abalos lights up the scoreboard, Bennermon has toiled quietly in the trenches.
“He’s got great gap control, creates havoc and he’s really difficult to block,” DeSouza said. “He makes our defense go.”
Bennermon said he believes his biggest strength is stuffing the run, collapsing the line and allowing his teammates to flow freely to the ball carrier.
“When someone is having a good game on the line, it affects everybody else and they can feed off that,” the junior said. “I just want to dominate.”
John Jay: Calvin Anthony and Derek White
With a number of big names gone, the Patriots (2-1) have found new ways to win; now relying more on its defense.
In that mix has emerged two young linebackers whose rapid progress has coach Tom O’Hare enthused about his team’s future, and the present.
Anthony, a junior inside linebacker, has been a force against the run. He makes reads quickly and, with his quickness and thump, is able to shed blocks and make tackles at the point of contact.
White, a sophomore outside linebacker, relies on “incredible quickness” and a savvy that belies his age, O’Hare said.
“When we’re scouting a team and lined up in their offense, (White) can tell from the formation the top two or three plays they’re most likely to run from that set,” the coach said. “He’s pointing stuff out to teammates like,‘Watch for this, look out for that.’ You can tell he’s been doing his homework.”
New Paltz: Phil Dorman, Guy Soumah and Kenny Verney
The Huguenots are 3-0 and, already, have scored 120 points. Perhaps more stunning, they’ve held opponents to 20 combined.
Dorman, a defensive end, is only 180 pounds but, he has 21 tackles and a sack. “He’s fast and the most intelligent guy on our team,” coach Tom Tegeler said. For what he may lack in size, the senior makes up for in aggressiveness and instincts. Joining him on the line is tackle Guy Soumah, a run-stuffer enjoying a breakout senior year who “has looked unblockable at times,” Tegeler said.
Their success up front has often enabled middle linebacker Kenny Verney to roam free and attack the backfield. The sophomore has 37 tackles.
Arlington: Trevor Lanchester, Anthony Gallo and Eli Greene
The Admirals, too, are somewhat of a surprise at 3-0, having pulled out close victories. The defense has made a number of key stops and, last week against rival John Jay, they were dominant at times.
Lanchester has been had an impact there. He made seven tackles against the Patriots, despite sharing snaps at nose tackle. His size (6-3, 255 pounds) and physicality make him effective and that has entrusted coach Mike Morano to make him part of the defensive line rotation. Arlington doesn’t have overwhelming talent, but its quality depth has provided an edge.
The Admirals, who run a 3-4 scheme, are able to rotate up to six players on the defensive line, keeping each fresh throughout a game. That, Morano said, “makes a big difference” in fourth quarters and overtime. Gallo, a stout defensive tackle, is part of the rotation. He plays with leverage, good quickness and is tenacious.
Green, a senior free safety, has been a “sparkplug and energizer,” Morano said. Green has good range and plays with reckless abandon, in addition to being the cerebral leader in the secondary.
Red Hook: Tristen Schiafo, Connor Redmond and Alex Nesel
The Raiders are one of the early surprises at 3-0, and that’s thanks in large part to the chaos its defense has caused with his varying coverage schemes and pressures leading to turnovers.
Much of the credit belongs to Red Hook’s trio of linebackers, who anchor their 4-3 alignment.
Schiafo stands only 5-8, 165 pounds, but his speed and coverage skills enable him to be a playmaker on the outside. He has 21 tackles and two sacks.
“He has a nose for the ball and anything outside the tackle, he can chase down,” coach Bill Stutz said of Schiafo, a junior. “He takes great angles and he’s one of the best in pursuit I’ve ever coached.”
Redmond, a senior who stands 6-2, 225 pounds, is the prototypical middle linebacker. A leader on the field, he calls the defensive signals and his audibles are key, particularly against no-huddle offenses. His strength and lateral quickness allow him to plug interior gaps as a run-stopper and, Stutz said, he “is a force to be reckoned with” on MIKE blitzes. Redmond has 21 tackles a sack.
Nesel, a junior, is an excellent open-field tackler whose skills shine at outside linebacker and on kickoff coverage. He is a hard hitter with good speed and technique. In addition to his 15 tackles, he has an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery.
“Those guys have grown up together and played these positions since (youth) football and they’ve developed into really good linebackers,” Stutz said. “That has been huge for our team.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4847, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4