If every high school football program had its way, graduation would be systematic at every position. There would be some returners, especially along the defensive front. But Grapevine didn’t have that luxury.
Following its 10-2 season in 2016, the Mustangs lost everybody from its 3-4 rotation. Replacing the three became more daunting. New head coach Mike Alexander had to see who could be the nose tackle with the departure of Brian Andrews.
Toiling through the offseason and spring, Alexander, who is a defensive coordinator by background, believes he has the rotation he wants. That’s composed of senior defensive end Cole Stephenson (6-2,240), senior nose tackle Justin Davidson (5-10, 210), senior defensive end Luis Reyes (5-10, 200), junior defensive end Nic Glover (5-11, 200) and junior defensive end Colby Williams (5-10, 210).
Indeed, the Mustangs are lighter. Stephenson is the exception. But Alexander is not concerned.
“We can get by with smaller guys because we live on penetration,” Alexander said. “I want our defensive line to be fast and quick above having it big and strong. Really, if you look at our defensive line, most of them could play inside linebacker. We talk about attacking gaps and being disruptive.”
Alexander favors using only five on the front. The game is several years into the mode where rotations are vital to keeping with up the breakneck pace of the spread offense.
It’s definitely different from last year. But we’re not expecting a drop off.
Cole Stephenson on Grapevine’s rebuilt 2017 defensive front
The rotations are important to use through the middle part of the quarters. Down and distance doesn’t matter. Alexander wants to have his top players on the field at the end of each half. There are no goals for creating a certain number of sacks or quarterback pressures. All Alexander wants is three turnovers per game.
The tight rotation will keep one or two of them on the field constantly. Stephenson is one of those. Because he started his varsity career at the backup quarterback to Alan Bowman, the only way Stephenson was going to see the field was on defense.
Alexander liked his size and recruited him to play behind Andrews. Playing time was sparse. However, he took advantage of an opportunity in the 70-0 Class 5A Division II bi-district playoff victory over Fort Worth Southwest.
Instead of jamming the middle, Stephenson is going to be an end playing on the rush side when he’s going against the stronger part of the offensive line. But he has to be careful with his hands. Stephenson is the holder for the field goal and PAT units.
“Right now, we’re working on technique and there is a little bit trial by fire,” Stephenson said. “We’ve watched a lot of film. We’re not going to change our style. It’s definitely different from last year. But we’re not expecting a drop off.”
Hopes are high. The Aug. 24 scrimmage against Saginaw Boswell will unveil strengths and weaknesses. The Pioneers will provide a great challenge as they are coming off an appearance in the 5A Division II Region I finals. Stephenson and Williams likely will be two of the starters. The third position has not been decided.
“We’re going to see flashes of greatness and areas where we need to grow,” Alexander said. “Last year, [Boswell] scored three times in the first 10 plays. Then we shut them down the rest of the way. But that’s what scrimmage is for. I like our five.”