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Prep preview '13 -- After rough year, HHS defense focused on making stops

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

There are certain games players remember fondly, and last year's win against McPherson was one of those for the Hays High School defense.

"I'll never forget that game. Everybody was filling gaps, everybody was sprinting to the ball," senior defensive end Ty Whittington said. "I definitely think the McPherson game was our best defensive game by far, just by everyone's intensity and by how much they wanted it after that first Junction City loss."

Hays High won the game 58-28, the only regular-season loss for the Bullpups. The effort was inspired by the defense's performance in the season opener the week before, a 44-43 overtime loss to Junction City.

The defense was hit and miss the rest of the season. Highs came in a 31-13 win against Great Bend and a crucial 15-9 district win over Salina Central on senior night.

But the Indians also gave up 34 points to Liberal and 31 points to Dodge City, both wins for Hays High thanks to its stellar offense. A 35-6 loss to Salina South and a 52-27 loss to Bishop Carroll in the Class 5A playoffs really stung.

Now this year's group will put its focus toward making amends, starting with its season opener against Junction City. They especially want to get last year's opening loss washed off their hands.

"This game is extremely important to me because I can't stand losing," Whittington said. "I don't want to lose to a team two years in a row. After what we did on defense last year, I just want to make a statement this year and turn it up a little bit."

And the pressure is certainly on the defense. Everyone believes in the Indian offense, led by budding superstar Alex Delton at quarterback. The Hays High offense scored more than 31 points in six of its 10 games, including four outings of more than 50 points.

And it wasn't to run up scores -- the offense often needed to keep scoring because its defense couldn't get stops.

The Indians should be a little tougher to score on this year, and it starts with having Delton to go against in practice.

"If we can cover him when he is playing quarterback, we should be able to cover almost any quarterback," junior middle linebacker Brandon Hardwick said. "He's going to throw the ball in good spots and it's helping all of our D-backs make sure the coverage is tight on the person."

With the offense switching to the spread, Delton finds himself using the shotgun a lot more, giving him the option to use his speed in the run game or his arm in the pass. This is a great help for the defense, which enters the season with many question marks in its secondary.

Not a single one of its defensive backs played the position last season. The only returner is senior Preston Weigel, but he played linebacker last year, not safety where he's at now.

"I feel like with all of our DB's coming in this year, they still have a little bit to learn," Whittington said. "This comes with game experience and getting used to it."

Making up for the secondary will be an experienced front seven. Hardwick will lead the linebackers, with Whittington anchoring the front at defensive end. They believe their run defense should be sound, and if they can get to the opposing quarterback then the inexperienced secondary should be able to do just fine.

Exactly how well will be determined on Friday against Junction City.

"That first game is always a really important game to see what everyone can do, make the reads right," Hardwick said. "It doesn't matter how good an offense you have. If you don't have defense, it doesn't matter."