|D-Line big part of Wildcats' defensive revival|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Nov. 1, 2005 - The Wildcats are on the brink of the playoffs partly because the defense has been able to shave 100 yards per game from the oppositions' ground attack since district play started.
Like most improvements, the change has started in the trenches.
In pre-district games, Sulphur Springs was allowing an average of 321 yards rushing. In 12-4A action, the Wildcats have cut that to 219 yards per game.
With that improvement came a switch in the defense to four down linemen rather than three. That played into what coaches believed was one of the teams' strengths - the defensive line.
The two starting ends, Cole Strawn and Fred Dale, are both seniors and are the top tacklers on the D-line.
Strawn has 49 tackles, two of them for losses, and a team-leading three sacks to go with one blocked field goal. Dale has 39 tackles, one for a loss and a fumble recovery.
They both came to the defensive line from different directions.
Strawn was switched from the offensive line, where he started all 12 games last season as a junior, while Dale moved to Sulphur Springs from Pennsylvania.
"Cole was an All-District offensive lineman last year, and really wanted to play D-line before this year," said SSHS head coach Brad Turner. "But we just couldn't do it because we had to have him on the offensive line. It kind of worked out in the spring where we had some offensive linemen step up, and we were able to move him over to the defense.
"He's big, but he runs really good. He was really fast for an offensive lineman. He's a 5-flat 40 guy. For a defensive lineman, he's pretty fast and he's pretty athletic. I think he enjoys playing on the defensive side more."
Strawn has been in the starting line-up every game this season as well, giving him 21 straight starts on varsity.
With that performance has come a leadership role on the team. While offensive tackle Jose Vargas has become the emotional leader for the offense, the same can be said of Strawn for the defense.
"He's turned into a pretty good leader. His leadership skills have been as good as anybody's," Turner said. "It means something to him. I think he is very genuine in his care for the team and his desire for us to do well. it shows, because he works.
"His work habits are great, he's very coachable, and it's important to him to be a Wildcat. He's a good player."
Dale has been a very productive addition. With Keith Harris and Demarcus Johnson also rotating in at the ends, Dale has been able to average more than four tackles per game mainly because he is able to use his athletic ability to make plays.
"He's a big, strong kid, who runs pretty good," Turner explained. "He played fullback at his previous school, so he has some athletic ability. He works hard, he enjoys playing, and he's always going to do what you ask him to do. I probably appreciate that more than anything.
"Freddy's a good student and makes good grades, which is one less thing you have to worry about. He's been a big part of our defensive line, especially the depth of our defensive line. He's done well."
The defensive line, and defense as a whole, will have another stiff test on Friday when North Lamar's Broderick Franklin comes to town. Franklin gained more than 400 yards against Mount Pleasant and holds the North Lamar school record for rushing.