-Knights find success built on solid defensive foundation -
Defense wins championships is the old adage that has been passed down to football coaches at all levels of competition. Shut down on oppositions ability to move the ball, they can't score on you and victories will ensue.
Nowhere is that adage more visible than right here at Northview High School.
The Knights are currently in rarefied air as a program, sitting at 6-1 and preparing for a game that could move them one step closer to their first Western Indiana Conference title.
The record as much as the weekly scores have drawn notice from voters in the weekly high school football poll as well. Currently the Knights are receiving six votes towards making an appearance in the state's 4A top-10. That fact is certainly aided by a defense that has gotten the attention of nearly every Northview opponent this season.
This is the third year that the Knights have been under the tutelage of head coach George Gettle and defensive coordinator Dan Mikesell. The Knights also have assistant coaches Mike Ellis, Kevin Dean and 2004 Northview graduate Dan Hoover working with a group that has gelled into a dominant unit.
"Our goal is to find kids who want to get to the football," commented Gettle during practice Tuesday afternoon. "These kids are going a great job of understanding where to look for gaps. We're not trying to do anything tricky. This is the third year in the system for some of these kids and their understanding of the system shows."
In order for a defense to have success, teamwork is imperative and the Knights have shown that on the field this season according to Mikesell. "This group is really playing as a team," he noted. "I think that it is a direct result of our work in the offseason. Most coaches will tell you that a team that works together in the offseason will develop a camaraderie that makes them better on the field."
The camaraderie that Mikesell speaks if is apparent in the fact that there are no individual egos on the field, but rather a team of players who revel in each other's success on both sides of the ball.
Linemen celebrate the secondary's interceptions and linebackers applaud a lineman's pursuit to the ball and the secondary appreciate a big hit by a linebacker.
"These kids understand that without pressure up front, pressure on the quarterback, we wouldn't be getting the interceptions," said Gettle. "Any of our defensive backs will credit our line for their pressure up front. When you force teams who don't normally throw the ball to do something they aren't comfortable with, you can get some turnovers."
The fact that the Knights have already picked off 14 passes this year, including a state-leading nine by Brady Shoemaker, can be accredited to the hard work up front by the Northview linemen.
"I've been real happy with our line," mentioned Gettle. "(Neal) Vanatti, (Brian) Walden, (Zach) Godsey, (Jeremiah) Allen, (Dane) Upperman and (Joey) Evinger, as a group they've progressed each week. We're able to rotate them in and keep them fresh. They've done nothing but good things in practice."
Mikesell seconded the positive comments by Gettle about a starting group that averages nearly 6'0 and 240 pounds. "I've seen a lot of improvement. (Neal) Vanatti has really come on in his understanding of the game. I think the game has really slowed down for him. (Jeremiah) Allen never quits. He's going hard on every play," said Mikesell.
Mikesell also pointed to his linebackers as a big reason his defense has allowed just 7.5 points per game in six victories this season. "(Craig) Trout is like having another coach out there," he commented. "He's the leader of our defense. He calls the plays. He's really another set of eyes out there for me," said Mikesell of the 5'11, 200 lb. senior linebacker.
Cory Grigsby is another senior who has made a distinct impression on coaches and opponents this season, leading the Knights in tackles and seemingly, always involved in defensive stops. Dean Netzler has also proven to be a big hitter after recovering from an early season knee injury.
A strong line and run stopping play from the linebackers has allowed a ball hawking secondary strike fear into opposing quarterbacks. Teams have averaged just 60.7 yards per game through the air while having, on average, two passes picked off per game.
Shoemaker, along with senior Michael Landry, Aaron Bays, Jamie Bays and Matt Miller have shutdown opposing receivers and have allowed just two teams to throw for more than 100 yards while holding South Vermillion (0 yards) and Edgewood (-2 yards) to zero or negative yardage.
When you put all those units together you have a defense that has been a big reason the Knights have tied the school record for victories thus far and will go for the outright mark on Saturday night in the RCA Dome versus West Vigo.
"We're staying focused and we're striving to be champions," said Gettle. "And I think we're awfully close to that."