Aided by newfound leadership, the Hornets defense is making a resurgence

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“Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” The famous football quote comes from legendary coach Bear Bryant, and is used by coaches all across America. However, for the Saline Hornets, this rings especially true, as the defense which is the “backbone of the team,” looks to carry the Hornets to a state title.

In Saline’s first game of the season, the defense came up with a crucial goal line stand to preserve a win for the Hornets. However, the group did not live up to the lofty standards that has emerged over the years for Saline’s defenders. Senior defensive end Ian Gifford stated that “we knew that we could not smile about a game that ended at the one yard line... had to hold ourselves to a higher level.”

Yet, a big reason for those disappointing week one and week two efforts was the replacement on defense that Saline had to do. Having to replace multiple starters at every level of the defense is a difficult task to accomplish. However, having a true offseason, one that was not impacted by COVID, allowed for defenders to connect with their teammates in a manner that only is possible with a normal schedule. Ian Gifford and Carter Smith both emphasized the importance of activities like team bonding and a normal summer camp. By having trust in the player besides you, one is allowed to make plays without worrying about the consequences of a teammate making a mistake.

With so many young starters, the few veterans had to take key leadership roles. Whether it be taking extra reps during a brutal conditioning test, holding teammates accountable for a crucial mistake, or showing up early to film, as a team led by players is a coach's dream. Players that previously were relegated to a backup role had to show new faces the ropes of being in a championship level program. Gifford spoke about how leaders like Adonis Gamo and Brett Baldus “passed down the standards that we need to hold ourselves and that responsibility is [integrated] into the culture.”

As the season has gone on, the defense has made massive strides. Shutouts against Skyline and Pioneer signified the mentality that the Saline defense was playing with, one of aggression and fearlessness. Smith said “guys are playing more freely and we have developed confidence in one another.”

The defensive line has especially taken leaps, as the front of the defense’s attack has been ferocious. Ian Gifford and all-state defensive end Joe Raupp have led the way, as opposing quarterbacks have felt the heat of those two bearing down on them. Even inexperienced players such as Nathan Huddleston and Andrew Hartley are recognizing their talents. Smith said “I see the younger guys following older players' leads, and they have realized the personal accountability it takes to play good defense.”

This team knows that it has not reached its final goals, as there still is a long way to go before they can consider themselves championship worthy. That’s why Smith said “we're going to keep our heads down and just get better every day on the practice field by holding ourselves to the standards we set.”

Nonetheless, as the season turns to early nights and brisk days, the schedule will get tougher and tougher. This Hornets defense is getting stronger and stronger as the weeks go by. They hope to carry their team into the late days of October, a season that ends with a trophy being raised at Ford Field.

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