By Derrick Mahone
After watching his North Clayton defense put up a goalline stand against Riverdale just before halftime in both teams' season-opener, Eagles coach Rodney Hackney had a good feeling about his defense.
The Eagles defensive line entered the season as a big question mark after the graduation of its three starters, including all-state performer Emanuel Dieke, who is now a freshman at Georgia Tech. North Clayton had to rebuild its defensive front en route to clinching a state playoff berth.
With three new starters on the interior front, the Eagles have not missed a beat this fall. North Clayton has used a strong defense this season to finish as Region 4-AAAA runner-up. Friday, the Eagles will make the five-hour trek to Brunswick to take on the Region 2-AAAA champions in a second-round playoff match-up. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Glynn Stadium.
The trio of sophomore Dion Traylor, senior Robert Amie and junior Jack Ndem have anchored the defensive front.
"We lost three great players on our line last season, but these guys wanted to keep that tradition going," Hackney said.
"We work as a team out there," Amie said. "We stick together. It is not just one guy, we are a unit. We had a lot of good players last year, and we learned from them."
It seemed they learned it well. Through 11 games, the Eagles have given up only 90 points for an eight point per game average.
Last season, the defense yielded 116 points in 12 games for a 9.6 average.
"We had some big shoes to fill on defense," said junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who has college offers from Maryland and Toledo. "The defense has definitely stepped up."
North Clayton's defense will definitely get a test against a Brunswick spread offense that is averaging 320 yards per game and has produced 24 total touchdowns. The Pirates are led by junior quarterback Chris Anderson, who has completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,615 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 742 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Sophomore Jarvis Small is the team's leading rusher with 953 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
"Brunswick is probably the fastest team we have faced since Banneker," Hackney said. "They are a true spread team. Their speed really concerns me. For some reason, our kids like playing against passing teams. It scares me."
North Clayton players are looking forward to the challenge.
"Most teams run the football, it is nice to see something different," defensive end Jack Ndem said.
Hackney said the key to the defense has been a strong staff that has been together several years. Longtime Hackney assistant Max Wiltz switched from the offensive size of the ball to defense last year. He appointed Wiltz to lead the defense since he had a great deal of knowledge about running the 3-5-2 scheme. Previously, Wiltz worked the offensive size on Hackney's staff during his previous stops at Riverdale, Lithonia, Mays and Osborne.
"One thing if you know offense, you got to know defense," Hackney said. "He does a tremendous job when he came over. He had to coach against the 3-5-3 so he knew how it worked. He has really brought some aggressiveness to our defense."