The well-publicized history of the program proves the talent level in Mangham for a football coaching staff to take advantage of. The Dragon coaching staff’s job is to find the best use for those players.
Now that they have, the results have shown.
A few changes here and there have turned a previously pretty good Mangham defense into a unit bordering on domination, allowing just 15 points in two playoff games and looking to more of the same in the 2A quarterfinals against West St. John.
“We finally got healthy. Coming out of the Sterlington game back in district, we had some guys that were beat up and it took us a while to be back on the field,” Mangham defensive coordinator Scott Wilcher said. “I think the energy level is different. I think when you hit the playoffs, the kids are a little more into it after a long season.”
The Dragon defense was far from disappointing in the regular season, such as holding Oak Grove to a season low six points, far below its season average of 38 points, and held a Pickering offense that has since earned a spot in the 2A quarterfinals to six points. Since then, Pickering has scored fewer than 28 points just once and has scored 35 or more three times.
“They really started believing after the Rayville game, not many people gave us a chance to even be in that game,” Wilcher said. “I think (Rayville) went in averaging 50-something points a game and with two minutes left, they had 28. Even though we lost that game, I think our kids started believing and it gave us that boost going into the playoffs.”
As odd as it is that a loss is what gave the Mangham defense its attitude of late, even more strange is the origin of its newfound lineup: injuries. For a team that lost nine seniors from last year’s defense, being forced to test the depth it didn’t know it had gave it several advantageous pieces to its defensive puzzle.
“We had a junior come on, Hunter Roberts, he came in and played for our middle linebacker (Joel Banks) when he was hurt for three games and we never got him off the field,” Wilcher said. “He earned that spot and we gained another linebacker because of that, and he can also play down in the trenches. You hate to see kids get hurt, but when we had to use some of these younger kids, they stepped up and it’s helped us out overall as a defense.”
When Roberts moves down to defensive tackle, he’s part of a rotation with Everett Huff and Julius Haley, who was a defensive end last year and moved to the inside. Defensive ends Cedric Straughter and Amariss Chisley complete a defensive line that has found its own groove in the playoffs.
“Coach (Wayne) Johnson’s done a great job with our defensive line, he’s finally got it the way he wants it,” Wilcher said. “He’s used about eight guys in there, and toward the end of the season he got it down to the four that he thought could do a good job and moving those people around. He’s been doing a tremendous job for us.”
The linebacker position features Banks, Roberts, Kyle Barefield and Cadence Winn among other working in on the weak side. The secondary is a unit that’s been tested a lot of late and expects to continue to be tested with spread attacks through the remainder of its playoff run.
“Starting off with Ferriday, we didn’t really play well in the first half. In the second half we held them to one touchdown and the secondary started getting a little something about then,” Wilcher said. “Against Rayville they played really well, probably should’ve won the football game. It’s been carrying over since then into the playoffs.
“All we’re going to see if spread teams from here on out. If we win, we’re going to face Rayville or Pickering and they’re both spread.”
Abdullah Rhone, Jakarie Nichols, Jermichael Harris and Dre Rogers make up the secondary that flourishes in a scheme that’s simple by design. Wilcher said the Dragons primarily deploy one or two coverages in a game and do limited things to disguise them, purposefully keeping things easy for them to play fast.
“The last two weeks, we’ve gotten four picks, something we haven’t done all season,” Wilcher said.
Follow Brett on Twitter, @BHudsonTNS.