The Menlo football seniors pose for a photo at a team dinner before its fourth game against Palma. Eight of the players in this photo are a part of the team's starting defense. Photo courtesy of Ty Corley.
By Sam Fortenbaugh
After the team’s 9-2 record last year, Menlo football’s defense is looking forward to a second straight year of success. The defense is returning nine starters from last year: JH Tevis, Aidan Israelski, Baily Deeter, Cooper Stewart, Ty Corley, Landon Smith, Xavier Dickinson, David Schmaier and Mafi Latu. Eight of those nine returning starters are seniors.
Through the first three games in the 2017 season, the Menlo defense has only allowed 384 yards and four touchdowns, some of the best numbers in the Central Coast Section.
The success comes from a collective understanding of the team’s defensive philosophy. “They have played a lot of football together under the same scheme, so they know and understand not only their job but their teammates' responsibilities as well,” varsity defensive coordinator Todd Smith said. “They understand the big picture which allows them to react and not have to think while on the field,” Smith said.
The players certainly appear to have bought into Smith’s ideals. “Our relationship with coach Smith has just gotten closer,” senior captain Aidan Israelski said. He trusts us, and we trust him, which hugely benefits our team chemistry.”
During training camp, the defense was presented with the challenge of staying hungry and motivated because of all the experience they had returning. However, a key point of emphasis among players is that they need to earn their spot on the field. “Speaking from a defensive back perspective, we have Dillon Grady, Miles Dorosin, Kevin Chen and Matt Flower all competing for spots, so we were pushed to work even harder,” Israelski said.
From a leadership perspective, the Knights have a few players they can turn to in critical situations. “We have a few leaders, including John Henry Tevis, Baily Deeter, Ty Corley, Xavier Dickinson, and Aidan Israelski. But if there was just one, I would say it is JH. I think kids really look to him when times get hard,” Smith said.
At the high school level, Smith is faced with a new challenge each week as he is tasked with devising a scheme to stop each time based on what type of offense the team runs. “With high school football, it’s not so much about implementing entirely new schemes,” Smith said. “We make slight adjustments based on our opponents, but we try to make our opponents adjust to us.”
With so many returning starters, there are not many openings in the defense, but a few newcomers are making their presence felt on the field. “Dillon Grady has a great deal of natural ability, and he has the potential to be one of the best Menlo safeties in a long time. His instincts and nose for the ball are unparalleled,” Israelski said. Grady has already made an immediate impact, with five interceptions in his first four games.
Menlo finished last season allowing an average total of 220 yards a game in the regular season, while only allowing 11.3 points per game (second in the Central Coast Section). With so much on-field talent and with Smith’s genius defensive schemes, the Knights are primed to exceed that high level of play in the remainder of the 2017 season.