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September 29, 2011

DeSoto changes fortunes by changing defenses

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

DESOTO, Texas - It was near triple-digit heat but that didn't stop the DeSoto (Texas) High Eagles from coming out in full pads and working hard to get better.

But this wasn't August. It was Wednesday - of a bye week.

"We have to work them hard," DeSoto head coach Claude Mathis said. "They didn't like it (in the beginning) I don't think. They got off slow, but they responded well to the challenge."

Then Mathis said something that would ring true with every top high school football program in the country:

"If we want to achieve our goals and get to where we want to be, we couldn't let them have it easy."

The goal for the Eagles is a Texas Class 5A Division I state title, an accomplishment that would put the team into the discussion for a RivalsHigh 100 national title - a conversation the team is already well spoken for as the current No. 8 in the country.

And while some coaches don't know where they are ranked - or worse, pretend not to know - Mathis faces the issue head on.

"We know where we are," he said. "We see where we are ranked and know when we move. The kids take it in stride. I made sure we addressed it."

Addressing the defense may have had a bigger impact.

The 2010 version of the Eagles defense gave up 453 points (more than 32 per game), only allowed fewer than 20 points twice all season and was ousted in the playoffs when the team gave up 72 to Round Rock (Texas) Stony Point.

Enter Kendrick Brown.

The new defensive coordinator for DeSoto brought a full-time 3-4 defense with him. It has made a world of difference.

DeSoto has only allowed 36 points (all season) thus far, pushing the team to a 5-0 start. In its recent test against the Stony Point squad that gashed the team in the playoffs, the Eagles won handily, 42-7.

"I think the group of seniors we have got embarrassed by how they went out last year," Brown said. "You could see it in the off-season workouts. They wanted it more.

"The group of guys who are supposed to be our leaders, supposed to be our stars, are leading by example. The stars are being stars and it is raising the game of the other players."

Defensive lineman Michael Richardson, linebacker Alex Lyons and a pair of cornerbacks in Jalen Mills and Bryson Echols are keying the DeSoto resurgence.

Richardson, a three-star defensive end commit to Texas A&M that Mathis says may be the best player the school's ever seen, thinks this year's team could be the best in school history. It is special, he said.

"We know what we can do," he said. "Last year's team was not like this. We are tight, we work hard, we are unselfish; we want to see each other succeed. We have a brotherhood."

Bryson, who will play college football at Texas, thinks it is more than just camaraderie.

"We have Coach Brown pushing us," he said. "This defensive scheme is exciting, it fits how we play; he is stressing all the little things to us."

Simply put, he is coaching them up.

"You have to have a staff around you," Mathis said. "Coach Brown has done great things. He brought in the 3-4 for us, but more than that, we have a great defensive staff that he fit right in with."

It was an all-in situation that Brown credits with the success.

"It is a disciplined style of football," he said. "You have to have the kids and the talent, which we do, and as a coach you have to have the rest of the coaches buy-in to what you are trying to install and everyone has. The credit isn't just on me, it is everyone.

"I have Bryson and Jalen out there on islands and Michael is so disruptive on the line it may be making me look good."

That could be one reason - except that those kids were on the roster last year.

"Coach Brown made the defense easy for us to learn," Richardson said. "It has given us a lot of confidence that we can go out and get it done."

The confidence boost is something that Brown has noticed.

"Momentum is big in this sport," he said. "A lot of things have been going well for us and the kids keep building themselves up week after week.

"We felt like in spring we were OK. By the end of summer our expectations of ourselves went up. Now we are at 5-0 and getting ready for district play, it's a good spot to be in."

It's a good group to be with.

"This is my first true team," Mathis said.

Just how good remains to be seen.

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