Low Key, Hard Hitting Defense Paving the Way for COC

Cougars freshman Madison Wheeler picks off the Huskies in the end zone in a win over East LA College at College of the Canyons Saturday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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By Dan Lovi
Signal Staff Writer

One of the best-kept secrets on the Santa Clarita Valley sports scene this year is the College of the Canyons football squad, which is led by a record-setting defense.

And while best-kept secret is not usually the way one describes a nationally ranked team, it’s a description befitting the team’s no-nonsense, no-frills, get-the-job-done approach, led by a defense that’s drawn a proverbial line for opposing teams, at the 1-yard line.

“We try to hang our hats on not having people score on us,” sophomore defensive end Tre Easter said. “Our whole defense as a unit — we just try to play as hard.”

And so far, it’s worked.

The Cougars defense has been trending toward the top all season, allowing only 7.3 points per game, which ranks them No.1 in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).

They are holding opponents to an average of 128.1 passing yards per game, which is also best in the state. The team’s defense has allowed only one passing touchdown all year.

Defensive coordinator Dan Corbet has been preaching a “bend-but-don’t-break” mentality all summer and all season.

It’s paid off for the Cougars, who have found themselves making big plays on defense when it matters most: near their own end zone.

The defense is led by linebacker Tariq Speights and defensive back Shaddrick Lowery Jr., but the roster runs deep. From the starters to the third-stringers, everyone contributes.

“I have full faith in the ones that I run with all the way down to the threes,” Speights said. “We have something really special as a program, not just our starters, but as an entire program.”

The passion the players have for the game and one another is evident on the field, as every big defensive stop is followed by a congregation around the player who made the play.

When sophomore linebacker Johnny Morrison III sacks the opposing quarterback, his first reaction is to thank his fellow teammates for doing their jobs to make it easier for him. When freshman defensive back Antonio Hunt intercepts a pass as the opposing team is driving, it’s his fellow defensive linemen who are the first ones to hoist him into the air in celebration.

“The most impressive part about them is their collective playing as a group,” Corbet said. “They all go out there to play as a unit and not just as individuals. They have a never give up mentality.”
No matter the opposition’s record, the Cougars don’t take any opponents lightly.

“Our program is built on a blue-collar mentality. We clock in and go to work every single day and they know if they’re not here to work they don’t belong here,” head coach Ted Iacenda said. “They show up every single day, they put in a full day’s work and that’s how they stay focused.”
The Cougars do it all with their minds on the playoffs and the ultimate end goal: a state championship. 

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