Northeastern defense built on speed, depth
New year, new coordinator, no problem.
The Northeastern defense picked right up where it left off last season, holding Daniel Boone to just 75 total yards in a Week 1 win last Friday. Just like that, the Bobcats rank first in the YAIAA in defense and continue to occupy that throne after putting together the best year statistically last season.
Last year, the Bobcats were the only team in the league to allow less than 1,000 rushing yards throughout the regular season. They were also the only team in the league to allow less than 1,000 passing yards.
“We all fly around to the ball; everybody’s one," said Coby Motley, a senior defensive back who intercepted two passes against Daniel Boone and took them both back for touchdowns. "You don’t have anybody standing around watching you make a tackle, everybody flies around to the ball. That’s what the coaches really teach us."
Jeff Mesich, now the head coach at Eastern York, led the defense last season as the Bobcats went 8-2 and won a playoff game for the first time in school history. Two 2015 GameTimePA YAIAA all-stars return from that team in defensive lineman Shamari Young and defensive back Fred Mulbah. Linebackers Mason Kling, Chris Whack and Jonathen Butler are back too, as is safety Justin Franklin.
Brian Freed took over as the team's defensive coordinator this year, coming over from Columbia. He's a former head coach at York Suburban High School who has been an assistant coach — on both sides of the ball — for several teams in the area throughout the last two decades.
Freed was the offensive coordinator at Red Lion when the Lions made it to the District 3 championship game in 2010, but said he's never coached on a team with a more talented defense than this group at Northeastern. He's changed the Bobcats' defensive scheme slightly, adding some complexity to make it more versatile, and moving out of a 3-4 formation and into a 3-3 formation with five defensive backs. He's also cranked up the conditioning in practice.
“These kids are amazing athletes," he said. "I don’t think I’ve ever had a secondary as talented as we have. These guys play fast, they play aggressive and they seem to enjoy what we’re doing, which is always a big plus.”
It's not just the quality of Northeastern's defensive players that make the team so successful, it's also the quantity. With the number of players the Bobcats rotate in and out, they probably could form two successful defensive units.
“We have a lot of two-way players so the ability to rotate us in helps a lot," Kling said. "We can get a break. It definitely gives an advantage.”
The team's offense also benefits from the luxury of practicing against the best defense in the league. The defensive players watch film everyday and simulate what the offense will see in the next game, often doing so with more speed and intensity than the offense will actually face, multiple players and coaches said.
This Friday, the league's best defense will visit defending YAIAA Division II champion York Suburban. They'll try to keep the momentum going from a 60-6 blowout win last week.
“It’s never the scheme, it’s the kids," Freed said. “It just happens to be that we have some very talented tools in the toolbox right now. I’ve had some good ones, but from top to bottom this is the best I’ve had.”