Two years ago, East Nashville’s defense was nothing short of spectacular, and, at times, it was downright scary, surrendering just 11 points per contest while posting eight shutouts.
Last season, the Eagles’ defense — along with the team as a whole — took a step back, but fifth-year coach Brian Waite and his players are convinced that this year’s unit can return to its 2014 form.
“That season it was all about giving your absolute best — working hard, great effort, great communication and just coming together as team, and those eight shutouts were just a byproduct of that,” Waite said. “We have the potential to play like that this season.”
“I feel like we can do even better,” said 6-foot, 285-pound senior defensive tackle Dondre Ezell, who holds scholarship offers from Tennessee Tech and Jackson State. “We’ve got a lot of talent.”
Led by star inside linebacker and last year’s Region 5-3A Defensive MVP Jacob Phillips (122 tackles), East Nashville, which is coming off a discouraging 3-8 campaign, welcomes back four of its top five tacklers from a season ago. They include Ezell (54 tackles, 5 sacks) and fellow all-region selections Dewon Moody (77 tackles) and Jayron Leatherwood (69 tackles, 3 sacks).
And that’s just the front seven.
Senior safety DeMarquez Trotter is also back in the secondary, where he’ll be playing alongside junior Brian Thompson, junior Mt. Juliet transfer Gabriel Magalei and Jashon Watkins, who, as only a sophomore, already has scholarship offers from Kentucky and Tennessee.
“If there’s a weakness, I haven’t found it yet,” said Trotter, who has been offered by Indiana State. “If we stick together and do what we’re taught — to execute with maximum effort — we can be where we were two years ago.”
There’s little doubt that East Nashville’s defense is loaded with top talent. However, one could make the argument that last year’s unit was similarly stacked.
There was obviously something missing, though, as the team surrendered more than double the amount of points it did in 2014.
“We weren’t communicating well as a team,” Ezell said. “Two years ago we talked a lot and always stayed together as a team. We didn’t do that a lot last year.”
“That’s one thing you’ll see with this year — the camaraderie with this group,” Waite said. “They like each other and they’re a lot closer, and that was one of the things that was missing last year because we had a big gap. We had a lot of seniors and a lot of young guys, and I think that gap has closed.”