‘Next Man Up’
The scene in the timeless classic Wizard of Oz where Dorothy emerges from the house to tell Toto “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” just about sums up how Goose Creek High School defensive line coach Joe Bowers feels these days.
Gone is all the Gators’ proven Division I talent on the defensive front, replaced by more ordinary high school players.
“That’s really what you deal with most of the time,” said Bowers, also the strength and conditioning coach. “When you get those Division I guys, those are special years. Ninety percent of the time you’re not going to have those types of guys.”
So now the task ahead is assembling the best group that will man the defensive wall as the season approaches. Both Gerald Turner (USC) and Mike Myers (East Carolina) are out of the picture. Jalen Stevens (UConn) also played up front the last couple of years.
It’s a scenario that could be cloudy heading into the first week of the regular season.
“We’ve got a lot of unknowns,” Bowers said. “We’ve got a lot of things we won’t figure out until we get pads on and start to hit people … everybody’s fighting for a position. Our rule is going to be what it’s always been. We’re going to get our best 11 out there.”
And that’s likely to change given the down and distance.
“Guys have got to fit a particular position and a particular role,” Bowers said. “Some guys are first- and second-down guys. Some guys are third-and-long guys.”
The lone returning starter on the defensive front is Daquan White (5-11, 245), who is projected to start at weakside defensive end. Last season, he was a full-time starter on the inside after rotating in at defensive end as a sophomore with Turner. Turner handled the majority of the DE reps last fall.
“Daquan gives us flexibility,” Bowers said. “If we don’t feel like we’re getting what we need out of the two guys inside and Daquan can add something there, and there is somebody adequate to take his spot at end, we could make that move.”
Other players in the mix are senior DE C.J. Polite (6-1, 190), junior DT Kyrise Williams (6-0, 250), junior DT Trenton Brown (5-11, 270) and sophomore noseguard Devon Brown. Of course, others can work their way into the picture.
The Gators’ mantra comes to Bowers’ mind. The hope for the defensive line is that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.
“Our big thing is ‘next man up,’” he said. “We treat them all the same. We expect everybody to play to a high level. We don’t care whether you’re a Division I recruit or whether you’re a backup or a third-stringer. We don’t care if you’re the weakest guy or the strongest guy… it’s about the ‘next man up.’”