Matt Girard wasn’t exaggerating. He was playing football with one hand tied behind his back in 2016.
Well, at least it felt that way.
The rising Keller Central senior linebacker had to be resourceful because he had a broken bone in his right hand. Suffering the injury in the second game against Richland, Girard went from cast to a wrap that made the hand a club. That’s how it looked for the rest of the year.
“I had to make better use of my tackling technique,” Girard said. “I had to find a way to wrap up better and squeeze. It made me a better player. You just have to overcome those kinds of things. Football is a sport where you’re going to have to overcome injuries. I also had to be faster, so I could get separation.”
Never miss a local story.
Something must have worked. Girard still led all Charger defenders with 143 tackles (77 solo), 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Entering his third year as the starter in the middle, expectations for this fall are high.
When bad things happen, you have to find a way to adjust. That’s just the way football is. It always happens.
Keller Central senior linebacker Matt Girard
Central is looking to return to the postseason after going 6-5 in 2016 and playing in the Class 6A Division I bracket. Coach Bart Helsley’s program is also looking for that first postseason win in school history. Cornerstone players like Girard can help make that happen.
The Chargers defense is a little different. It operates from a 3-3-5 stack alignment. It is as it sounds, with three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. If the defensive front is having a good game, that usually bodes well for the linebackers.
The middle linebacker will stay within the tackle box. His primary responsibilities are to be a run stopper and a spy on the quarterback. There will be some passing assignments. But successful defensive football starts with stopping the run.
“He just does it all for us,” Helsley said. “He’s really in sync with what we want to do. He can do everything we can ask. He understands our scheme and has just found a way to be in the right time and the right spot. Matt doesn’t say much but has the respect of his teammates.”
Central’s defense is experiencing a bit of a turnover. The Chargers are replacing all three of their defensive linemen. Fortunately, there is some athleticism returning on the defense.
Girard is established and complemented by senior defensive back Noah Moreno and sophomore D.J. Graham, who will split time between the secondary and at wide receiver.
Central is not an offense that will get into an up-and-down contest. The Chargers want to control the clock and make opponents play patient.
The defensive front will look to establish itself quickly in the non-district games against Birdville, Richland and Arlington Lamar.
Girard takes the attitude of any established leader. There is a plan. But the key is knowing how to handle it when plans disintegrate.
“We’re always adjusting through a game,” Girard said. “When bad things happen, you have to find a way to adjust. That’s just the way football is. It always happens.”