A few weeks back, longtime Loris radio play-by-play man Glenn Hardee was asked his opinion of why this year’s Lions’ defense was so good.
Was it scheme? Was it raw talent?
Hardee paused for a moment before answering.
“I’ve never seen quite what I’ve seen this year,” he said prior to calling a game in his 29th season around the Loris football program. “This is the most business-like, unspectacular group I’ve seen.”
Taken out of context, Hardee’s comments could be taken the wrong way. But he wasn’t bashing Loris’ defense. It was very much the opposite.
Hardee clarified, stating that without a single star – one guy who seems to always be in the mix – the Lions have become about as dominant as any defense he’s seen. The first eight teams Loris has faced in 2014 have had a hard time rebuking that theory.
In advance of Friday’s home against against Class AA powerhouse Dillon (8-0, 3-0 Region VIII-AA), Jamie Snider’s team has risen to the ranks of No. 2 in the state. That figure is a product of all the insane numbers the defense has put up.
So far, the Lions (8-0, 3-0) have recorded 81 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. They’ve forced 18 fumbles and seven interceptions, returning an average of one turnover for a touchdown per game. In fact, Loris has scored twice as many points with its defense than opposing offenses have on them.
It has allowed just 2.875 points per game, and prevented half of its opponents from scoring at all.
“It’s hard to shut someone out,” defensive coordinator Adrain Grady said, himself less than a decade removed from a standout career at Coastal Carolina. “All it takes is one misstep, one fumble, one DB fall down with a cramp. If a team is going to score, we want it to be because they took it, not because we gave it to them. We want to make sure they don’t take it from us.”
Grady cited numerous times in the last three weeks, specifically mentioning games against Marion and Mullins, in which his players were out of position and should have been burned for big gains. However, he added that players’ individual speed made up for the lapses.
And while Hardee’s diagnosis was that there wasn’t a star defensive player at Loris, he might have been selling the Lions short. There is a chain of impact players with their own numbers to boast.
Jordan Hemingway and Junior Long each have 20 tackles for loss. Long and Desmond Dozier each have two defensive touchdowns (leading a list of six total players with scores).
Dozier and Charoldric Williams each have two interceptions. Six different players – Long, Williams, Hemingway, Heath Reaves, Precise Owens and Hedien Goodman – each have at least two fumble recoveries.
And then there’s Stacy Dozier with a team-high 94 total tackles.
The Lions typically rotate between 13 and 15 players on defense during crucial times, with about six of those players also taking significant snaps on the other side of the ball.
“If we were two-platooning, I don’t know if we’d be 8-0,” Snider said. “The truth of it is is we went into the year knowing we’d have more guys playing both ways.”
That’s because the guys being asked to play on offense and defense are that good. The biggest sign to that this season has been how much better they’ve been despite returning only four dedicated starters from last year’s team that went 9-3 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs.
This year’s group doesn’t want to be the crew that “fell off” from past season’s defenses. A handful of players have taken it further. Earlier this year, Long said players get a “disgusting feeling” when opponents score.
Charoldric Williams agreed.
“We get upset,” the defensive back said. “We play with a mentality that they can’t score at all. It’s kind of surprising, but now that we do it almost every game, we’re used to it.”
Williams said Grady rarely talks about his playing days. However, it appears the Lions found much of the same motivation the former Chanticleer defensive lineman had.
“I liked to play football with some malice, some anger, to get the best out of myself,” Grady said.
Just as it worked then, it’s working now.
While it is entirely possible given the fact Dillon scored 44 points against Loris last year, the Wildcats would have to put up at least 27 points Friday to knock Snider’s team from its spot as the best defense in the state or at least 35 to unseat their lead among Class AA programs
Both of those figures are north of what Loris has done this season, let alone one game.
“You can have all the gaudy offensive numbers you want,” Snider said. “But if you’re not great on defense, it’s hard to be a consistent winner.”