When asked to describe the College of the Canyons defense in three words, linebacker Tariq Speights only had one:
“We always talk about the blue collar mentality defense,” COC defensive coordinator Dan Corbet said. “We refer to ourselves as the darkside, so we are understanding that the offense is going to get that notoriety. People like to watch touchdowns get scored but we’re okay with not having that limelight on us.”
Even without the touchdowns, the Cougars defense has become somewhat of a spectacle this season, led by ball-hawking linebackers, a strong secondary and a fierce D-line.
They’ve allowed only 30 points through four games, currently ranking them as the No. 1 defense in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA). They have yet to allow a passing touchdown this season.
Selflessness, communication and unity. These are all key components to making a strong defensive unit. According to Corbet, it’s these traits that have made this particular defense one of the best he’s coached in his 11 years at COC.
“The most impressive part about them is their collective playing as a group. They all go out there to play as a unit and not just as individuals,” Corbet said. “We have a lot of selfless players that are out there playing for their teammates and that’s a rare thing to see, especially at this level.”
Speights, a linebacker who played prep football at Valencia, leads the team in tackles (34), forced fumbles (2) and has a sack, to boot.
Standing at 5-foot-10, Speights isn’t as physically imposing as some of his counterparts, but his intelligence compensates for that. In addition to playing defense growing up, he also played quarterback, giving him the unique ability to see both sides of the ball at a high level.
“Since I’m not bringing great height to the game, I pride myself on having the highest IQ out of everyone on the field,” Speights said. “If I’m physically not going to be the best defender on the field, I’m going to make sure mentally I know my plays, coverages and everything. That will put me in the right places to make plays.”
Corbet said that Speights has had a presence since the first day he stepped into the locker room.
“Speights has been a vocal leader from day one and he comes from a great program too,” said Corbet, who is also a Valencia alumnus. “He’s gone out and done nothing but fly around the football field and create plays and turnovers. When you’re backing it up with your play, guys tend to listen. He’s definitely done that.”
Joining Speights in the linebacking unit is Charles Ike, a Hart alumnus and fellow freshman.
Ike is second on the team in tackles with 26 including four for a loss. He also has an interception and a forced fumble.
Speights, Ike and Golden Valley alumnus Bryan Barrera, who has 10 tackles, are just three players in a linebacking unit that is incredibly deep.
“It’s a complete, good unit. We don’t have a weak member,” Ike said. “If one of us goes down or is tired, coach can replace us with anybody. We have a lot of depth.”
“I want to say that we’re the tightest unit on the field,” Speights said. “We work hard. We’re a very talented group, all 10 of us.”
Although the defense has been nearly unstoppable, the players believe they still have room to improve. Whether it’s tackling better or staying on assignment, the defense plans on getting better week by week.
“I think we’ve done very good, but we can do even better,” said defensive end Tre Easter. “I think we just need to keep working as hard as we’ve been working and striving for our goal of reaching the championship.”
COC has a history of sending its players to Division 1 schools, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Noel Iwuchukwu, a defensive end on last year’s team now plays at Arkansas State. Dorian Gerald, who was unheralded out of high school, joined COC and rose up the ranks. Last season he was ranked as the No. 1 Junior College defensive end in his class and now plays at the University of Arkansas.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do,” Corbet said. “Win games and help young men move on.”
Corbet’s players had nothing but praise for their defensive coordinator.
“He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had,” Easter said. “He helps change us as not just as football players, but as men. I’m just grateful to be here and be coached by him.”
“Coach Corbet is a great coach, he really does his research and puts us in positions to be successful on the field,” Speights said.
Canyons will look to improve to 5-0 on the season tonight when it takes on Golden West at home at 6 p.m.
Corbet and his defense have undoubtedly been studying up for their latest opponent.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us and we want continue on this path,” Corbet said. “Limit the amount of points scored, put our offense in good position with turnovers and let them do their thing.”