Mustang defense could pave way to fourth straight playoff appearance
Mustang’s defense should be the team’s strength in 2016.
Mustang returns seven starters from a unit that allowed just 22.3 points and 270.5 yards per game last season, 123.8 on the ground and 146.8 through the air. All three defensive linemen return, three of four secondary players and a linebacker. We’ll see new faces across the unit, but most importantly, at defensive coordinator.
Adam Gaylor takes over Mustang’s defense after a stint as Westmoore’s head coach. Gaylor runs the same 3-4 scheme as former coordinator Mark Yates, but with a few wrinkles, twists and new terminology.
Can the Bronco defense hold opponents under 20 points per game in 2016? Can they lead Mustang to the playoffs for a fourth straight year? We’ll get a glimpse of what’s to come Friday at Yukon, but for now here is a look at the team’s projected defensive depth chart:
(CLICK HERE for a look at Mustang’s offensive depth chart.)
- DEFENSIVE TACKLE
- STARTER: Deontre Thomas (6-3, 270, Sr.)
- BACKUP: Michael Bachus (5-9, 200, Sr.)
- DEFENSIVE END
- STARTERS: Austin Brown (6-2, 225, Sr.), Johnny Still (6-2, 200, Jr.)
- BACKUPS: Elricko Anderson (6-0, 180, So.), Justin Wardlaw (6-2, 225, So.)
Mustang’s defensive line will be strong, quick and talented in 2016.
It all starts with Nebraska-commit Deontre Thomas. He finished with 64 total tackles, six sacks and eight tackles for loss in 2015. He was unstoppable in Mustang’s playoff loss at Broken Arrow, spurring a run of scholarship offers from multiple Power 5 schools. With his footwork and athletic ability, Dombek says Thomas undoubtedly has the potential, but loves seeing him shoulder more leadership responsibilities going into his senior year.
“His attitude is unbelievable,” Dombek said. “He’s a great leader in the locker room and by example on the field. He was voted captain by his teammates and there were very few guys that didn’t have him on the ballot.
“We’ve got to find more ways to get him involved because he’s special. There are still things he can get better with, but nobody can handle him one-on-one. In the middle he’ll occupy two guys and that’s an advantage we want to have.”
Austin Brown and Johnny Still combined for 46 total tackles as juniors last season at the defensive end positions and will look to take advantage of playing along side Thomas in the front-seven once again.
Each with size and quickness, their production should almost double in 2016. They are also interchangeable and can play on both sides or in the middle with different fronts.
- INSIDE LINEBACKER
- STARTERS: Case Woodard (5-11, 175, Sr.), Cameron DeHart (6-0, 170, Sr.)
- BACKUPS: Cooper Meadows (5-9, 160, Jr.), Aron Copas (5-10, 190, Sr.)
- OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
- STARTERS: Xavier Sandoval (6-3, 225, Sr.), Gage McBride (6-1, 160, Sr.)
- BACKUPS: Caleb Starks (5-11, 160, Sr.), Blane Helling (5-8, 160, So.)
Mustang’s linebackers will be a tad inexperienced coming into the season, looking to backup the production left behind by Kaden Truelove, Cole Daniel and now-running back Carlos Thomas.
Case Woodard and Cameron DeHart have massive shoes to fill as they take over inside for Truelove and Daniel, who combined for 184 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2015.
Each gained a small amount of experience in 2015. Woodard finished with 16 total tackles and two tackles for loss while DeHart finished with 15 total tackles. Cooper Meadows, fresh off a wrestling state tournament run, finished with 12 tackles and could see even more time as a junior as well as Aron Copas who finished with three tackles in part-time action last season.
Gage McBride brings back experience and production, finishing with 79 total tackles at outside linebacker in 2015, fourth most on the team. He also racked up seven tackles for loss and two sacks. He will lead a group, including Xavier Sandoval, Caleb Starks and possibly sophomore Blane Helling. Starks finished with three tackles last year in a backup role.
“They are guys who don’t have a Friday night football experience, but they have a lot of football experience,” Dombek said. “We’re comfortable with them right now and expecting a big year out of possibly a few guys in the rotation.”
- STARTERS: Darion Richards (5-10, 150, Sr.), Dominik Venegas (6-1, 155, So.)
- BACKUPS: Darrien Farmer (5-10, 170, So.), Cameron Thaxton (5-9, 155, So.)
- FREE SAFETY
- STARTER: Garrett Kilpatrick (6-1, 180, Sr.)
- BACKUP: Collin Campbell (5-7, 175, Sr.)
- STRONG SAFETY
- STARTER: Carter Rees (6-1, 160, Sr.)
- BACKUP: Nate Lowber (5-11, 155, Sr.)
Mustang’s secondary will be packed with skill and experience, bringing back three of four starters from last year.
Darion Richards led the team with nine pass breakups and finished with 38 total tackles and two interceptions at cornerback in 2015. He has garnished attention from local college coaches and will be joined by a fresh face full of potential; Dominik Venegas.
Venegas brings size and speed. At 6-foot-1, 155 pounds he finished sixth in the 200-meter dash in the 2016 Class 6A state track and field meet as a freshman. He is what D1 coaches look for in a prototypical cornerback.
Carter Rees moves from corner to strong safety this year, a switch Dombek says was the best his staff has made this year. Rees finished with 35 total tackles, four tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two interceptions in 2015.
Garrett Kilpatrick returns as the team’s starting free safety, finishing with 58 total tackles and four pass breakups as a junior. His presence and expertise at the position could be invaluable for the Broncos as Rees comes along at the other safety spot.
“You look at Rees, Richards and Kilpatrick. Those are guys going on three years of starting experience,” Dombek said. “And all of them have experienced a lot of success. The game is slow for them and when you throw wrinkles their way, they are eager to learn. We realize how important this unit is for us and how good we can be.”
- SPECIAL TEAMS
- PLACE KICKER & KICKOFFS: Eric Carreon (5-11, 165, Sr.)
- PUNTER: Dillon Dean (5-11, 180, Sr.)
- RETURNERS: Ping Harris (6-0, 170, Sr.), Caden Arthur (6-4, 185, Sr.), Mason Lowe (5-11, 170, Jr.), Damian Close (6-0, 175, Jr.)
Eric Carreon returns as the team’s kicker. Dillon Dean returns for his second year at punter after punting 49 times for an average of 33 yards in 2015.
Dombek says a number of players could return kicks and punts for Mustang this year. Ping Harris returned three kicks for 118 yards in 2015, the most return-experience on the roster. Mason Lowe returned one punt for three yards.
Trey Hunter is the sports editor at the Mustang News. He has covered Mustang High School sports for three years in an editorial role and has covered Oklahoma high school sports for the last five years. He can be reached by phone at (405) 659-9898 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.