Golden Tiger defenders ready to carry the load following the departure of key players
One of the biggest features of Russellville’s trips to the state championship game the past two seasons has been a dominating defense.
The unit had confidence and swagger as it disrupted opposing offenses in impressive fashion.
Following the loss of six starters, many fans are wondering if this year’s defense can keep the tradition going.
“The defense is going to be off the charts,” said linebacker Brent Calloway. “That’s what I am expecting from them and from myself.”
Fellow linebacker Casey Herring shares that enthusiasm, especially with the size of the players on the defensive side of the ball.
The Golden Tiger defense has set a standard of excellence the past two seasons that this team will be measured by.
During the past two seasons the Russellville defense has recorded 33 interceptions and 39 fumble recoveries. They have returned 12 of those turnovers for touchdowns.
The defense has allowed an average of 231.7 yards per game, 13.6 points per game and 12.7 first downs per game during the previous two years.
Gone from those teams are defensive linemen Aaron Hollingsworth and Trent Brannon, linebackers Jessie Green and Jacob Gist as well as defensive backs Jake Ward and Ryan Romans.
Those players accounted for 613 tackles, 54 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks and nine interceptions last season.
“Obviously we are going to miss the players we lost. They were big players and contributors,” Russellville coach Doug Goodwin said. “They are all really good players, but we have people capable of replacing them.”
Goodwin said the key to replacing those lost starters is the attitude of the players filling those spots. He said this year is similar to the 2008 season when people were unsure of what kind of team Russellville would fill.
“The reason we were able (to get to the state championship game) is because the new guys stepped in and filled the role,” Goodwin said.
Calloway said he noticed some similarities between this team and the one from 2008 as well and didn’t mind the fact many people feel the Golden Tigers are in a rebuilding season.
He said in 2008, when he was a sophomore, the younger players were hungry and wanted to step up and succeed. The players that are still there from that season still have that drive according to Calloway.
“The good thing about rebuilding is that (players) build relationships that last throughout high school,” Calloway said. “We wanted it and still want it. The younger players look up to us and they want it too.”
Russellville’s defense has not been completely decimated. Calloway and Herring return at linebacker and Robert Terrell, who transferred from Pennsylvania, has verbally committed to Louisville — which gives Russellville a strong linebacking corps.
Jackson Witt was a solid defensive lineman last year while Darrian Graham played well in the secondary.
With the success of the team last year, the coaching staff was able to rotate several younger players into games late to get them some much-needed experience.
Herring and Calloway both said despite the loss of several players not only on defense, but also on offense, that fans expectations are still high.
“I think they want 15-0,” Herring said. “With the defense to lead the team.”
Calloway agrees with that assessment.
“They expect us to be good — nothing less than what Russellville has been,” Calloway said. “Russellville has never been sorry. We’re not going to start being sorry now.”