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Package deal: Pride junior cornerbacks make rotation work

Package deal: Pride junior cornerbacks make rotation work

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 11:02 pm

There were some known commodities before the season for Mountain Pointe High.

They had a stud offensive lineman in Eddie Rivas, a defensive line that the coaches could count on to win most battles and a four-star safety in Isaiah Pola-Mao.

There were plenty of others back in the fold that placed the Pride in the state title contender list before the season started.

Now, nine weeks, in there are several players heavily counted on who were not as well known in August.

The Pride (9-0) look to lock up their fourth undefeated regular season since 2009 against Gilbert (1-8) on Friday.

Three of the lesser known athletes who helped the team get there play in the defensive backfield. They comprise one of the best units in the state.

The safeties—junior playmaker Kenny Churchwell and the leader of the group in Pola-Mao—and senior shutdown cornerback Antwaun Woodberry were all part of the known categories and rank among the best at their position.

The opposite corner spot has become a rotation of juniors Marshawn Gibson, Donte Lindsey and Delano Salgado.

“We are rotating them because they’ve all shown they deserve to play,” Pride defensive back coach Gio Melendez said. “All of these guys could start at just about every team in the state.”

Gibson has been getting the starts in recent weeks, while Salgado started early on. Lindsey has seen increased playing time since becoming eligible in the sixth game of the year after transferring.

If Lindsey had been eligible from the start, the other guys might have had lesser roles this year. But in his absence, both Gibson and Salgado (who also plays some running back) have played at a high level.

Gibson’s emergence came after being moved to cornerback from safety a few weeks before the season started.

Pola-Mao and Churchwell both have major college offers, so Gibson’s best chance to play came at cornerback. When Salgado missed the Mountain View game, Gibson was inserted into the starting lineup.

“It just proves you always have to be ready,” Gibson said. “I wasn’t even a cornerback, or in the rotation to start the year. I kind of didn’t want to do it at first just because I’ve always played safety. I started to get a feel for it and I have taken off.”

Salgado and Lindsey still get plenty of time, and there is even the “Cheetah” defensive package, when all six defensive backs are on the field at the same time.

“We’ve only used it a few times, but there isn’t a drop off no matter who we put out there,” Melendez said. “We know they are going to be in position to make the play.”

The defense as a whole affect the opponent’s passing game, but the defensive backs have to lock up the receivers to make sure the work of the defensive line and linebackers pays off.

The Pride’s opposition has passed for less than 100 yards in six of the nine games and the quarterbacks are only completing 46 percent (97 of 211 for 898 yards) and have thrown 11 interceptions.

“There is a lot that goes into it,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “There is scheme, technique and the defensive pressure. We don’t blitz a lot, but when we do we know our back end is going to hold up. We can tell them what to do, but they still have to make the plays and they usually do.”

When Lindsey was sitting out the first five games, he played wide receiver on the scout team.

“The competition is crazy,” Lindsey said. “It’s tough to get separation. It makes all of us better.”

The unit has their own games within the game. They battle to see who gets the most tackles and interceptions. They are always competing, pushing themselves to be better and stymieing the team in front of them.

“We know how good we can be when are playing at high level,” said Churchwell, who won a scholarship from the University of Arizona this week. “The competitions keep us focused, and makes us stronger because we are always trying to outdo each other.”


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