At practice, the Golden Valley defense finds that it improves the most when it’s pitted against the offense in live situations.
“We have all the team together, and it gets pretty competitive with our offense and defense,” said defensive end CJ Ravenell. “We don’t allow ourselves to give up yards when we’re playing team in practice.
“…We’ve just got speed and quickness and just hit hard and go in there with the force.”
The Grizzlies defense bolstered win after win last season and helped the team to a CIF-SS Division 7 semifinal appearance.
So how do you keep that fire going?
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Team play is often prefaced by Oklahoma or Pride drills, which pit offensive and defensive players against each other one-on-one. The drills have the exciting side effect of hyping players up for the rest of practice and the season as a whole.
The mental side of practices is carefully calculated, too.
“I think that our knowledge of the game has picked up with how many meetings we’re having, our practice style,” said linebacker coach Eric Harris. “The tone of our practice has been much more schematic than in the past. And so that’s helped us kind of translate mentally on the field.”
One player who has reaped the benefits of the increased emphasis of football IQ is strong safety and film addict Ahvie Harris.
“He’s always dissecting stuff on defense and pointing things out before the play starts,” said linebacker DJ Turner.
“Like, ‘Oh, the lineman’s heavy. It’s going to be a run up the middle.’ Or, ‘It’s going to be a run to the right because the tackle is leaning back.’”
Turner, a senior, made the transition to linebacker after playing defensive end last season. He sets up the defense in his new position, although he says he learned all the signals last year and even called some out.
His experience at multiple positions also gives him a strong sense of the different levels on defense.
The addition of Hawkins of Los Angeles transfer and USC commit DeGabriel Floyd, who starts at defensive back but also has experience as a backer, adds to the defensive competitiveness – as does sophomore Johnathon Kaelin, a linebacker who transferred from Alemany of Mission Hills.
The depth and aggressiveness of the defense take some pressure off the GV offense, which is strong, but still searching for a consistent starting quarterback.
Eric Harris also anticipates some scoring defensively and on special teams.
“We’ve got to come out strong to shut people up, just like we did last year,” Turner said. “This time we’re going to keep going.”