The old football adage that “defense wins championship” resounds ever true for the West Monroe High School football program.
The Rebels have been a defensive juggernaut for over two decades under defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Jerry Arledge with eight LHSAA Class 5A state championships and two national championships.
So many of the great defenses of the past have had a talented and hard-nosed group of linebackers with names like Bradie James, Adam McConathy and Luke Sanders — all of which went on to play in the SEC.
Now, the torch has been passed to the Class of 2014, which includes Luke’s youngest brother Nick, who is in his senior year.
He is joined by fellow seniors Dustin Mitchell and Rashun Myles and all three are pushing for playing time with juniors Matthew Phil and Layton Garnett and sophomore Jacob Adams pushing the depth chart during preseason camp.
“Nobody has a spot right now,” Arledge said about the three starting linebacker spots. “When you have numbers, and you have kids at more than one is at a position, then you have competition, and that is a great thing. It brings out the best usually in everyone.”
Mitchell is back on defense after spending the second half of last season at quarterback, following the season-ending knee injury of Jon Randall Belton.
His leadership, and understanding of the position, has been evident so far.
“He is one of our better athletes, and when you get by without playing him on that side of the ball, it is a tremendous boost for us defensively,” Arledge said. “You can lead in a lot of different ways. Dustin leads by example, and that is just as good as anything.
“If you are gonna be good defensively, you have to have good players everywhere but it kind of takes a special guy to be a linebacker. We don’t just try to take a good looking athlete and make a linebacker out of them, they are more or less born with that instinct.”
For his part, Mitchell has enjoyed being back on defense.
Getting as many reps as possible has been good for players such as Myles and Pihl, who are relatively new to the system. Pihl transferred in the spring from Central-Baton Rouge High while Myles played for West Monroe as a freshman, but moved to Texas two years ago before returning to the area and playing for Richwood as a junior.
Now that Myles and his family are back in West Monroe, the senior is excited to get down to business.
“It has been great, playing with my friends that I grew up with and will graduate with,” Myles said. “We have reconnected fast, and it has been great. I remembered some of (the playbook), now I am 100 percent ready and I am catching on well. I am excited to be playing with these guys. They bring out the best in me.”
Myles has leaned on Mitchell to be on the fast track to learning the terminology and plays, and they have made a good team through preseason camp.
“(Mitchell) does a lot,” Myles said. “He makes sure we all know everything and makes sure I am in the right spot on a certain play to be successful. He pushes us to keep pushing.”
As much as Mitchell enjoys linebacker, he continues to have a team-first attitude going into his final season at West Monroe.
“I have taken some snaps at quarterback just in case I am needed there,” Mitchell said. “I will do whatever the team needs.”
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