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‘D’ keeps Cougars kicking

COC defense looking for ‘redemption’ in Saturday’s Western State Bowl

Posted: November 18, 2009 10:17 p.m.
Updated: November 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons defensive coordinator Bart Hansen, middle, shows the defense the play during practice on Wednesday at Cougar Stadium.

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Earlier in the season, College of the Canyons head football coach Garett Tujague described the atmosphere at his defense's practices as a "circus."

Not the chaos, but the noise and energy.

One player's calling everybody a "vegetable."

Others are hollering.

Everyone is hitting like it's a game.

It's something that has carried over to the Cougars' actual football games, where some might say it is that defense that kept COC afloat in 2009.

There's no argument that for a COC football team, the 2009 squad that is 6-4 has been a disappointment.

But not on every level.

The Cougars ranked eighth during the regular season in the state in total defense.

COC was fourth in points allowed (16.5) and fourth in yards allowed (395.5). The Cougars were also the sixth best team against the rush.

Now they're headed into the final game of the season - the Western State Bowl against Saddleback College at Saddleback on Saturday at 5 p.m.

It's sort of a consolation for not making the state postseason tournament.

The defense doesn't see it that way.

It sees the game as an opportunity.

"We let ourselves down. We're kind of down on ourselves. It's been hard to pick ourselves up," said COC freshman free safety Kalen Powell. "(This game is) definitely redemption. We've got to show the state who we are."

COC has already done a good job of showing the state on the defensive side of the ball in 2009.

Fifteen different players have contributed to the Cougars' sack total of 31.

Seven different Cougars have contributed to the interception total of 13.

According multiple defenders and defensive coordinator Bart Hansen, the reason for the success is that the players like each other and constantly are competing against each other.

"I think we have a lot of people who motivate us and try and keep it competitive amongst each other," said defensive lineman Jake Tepper. "Someone will say, ‘You didn't get the sack. I'm going to get there before you get there.' We're constantly motivating each other."
The guy who's getting there more than anyone else is sophomore linebacker Evan Harrington.

Harrington leads the team with 5.5 sacks, is second with 55 tackles and has an interception.

Though they're not gaudy numbers, in terms of how many players have

contributed on the defensive side, it shows just how much of a team the defense is.

Harrington is quick to dole out credit to others.

"Coming into the season, we knew we were very talented and needed some of the freshmen to step up, and they stepped up big time," Harrington said. "Credit the defensive line the most - (Jeremy) Boone, Tepper, Dashawn Cassell, Emmanuel Koleosho, Kourtney Bennett. They allow the linebackers to make good plays and allow the defensive backs to make plays on the ball. The D-line's very strong this year and could have an even better year next year."

Only Tepper among that bunch is a sophomore.

It says a lot that this defense has stepped up, especially since it was the No. 1 defense in the state in 2008 and didn't have very many returning starters for 2009.

The state's defensive player of the year, lineman Marquis Jackson, completed his junior college eligibility.

Harrington and defensive backs Josh Gibbs and Arron Fisher were the only returners who saw significant playing time in 2008.

Hansen said the defense transformed from a 3-3-5 to a 4-2-5.

Other than that, there have not been many major schematic changes.

Hansen, in his third season as defensive coordinator, said most of the success comes from his guys buying into the program.

"I would just say us playing as one whole unit," Hansen said of reasoning for the success. "We don't have the marquee name guys like we did last year. It's a bunch of guys playing and believing in the system and playing for each other."

Part of the reason for that is the team has struck a balance between intensity and looseness.

Boone is responsible for much of that looseness.

He yells out "vegetable" as a motivating term during practice and games.

Boone explains of the term: "Basically, say you're not good enough to be on the same field as me. You're a vegetable."

He further explains that people don't usually like to eat vegetables.

To emphasize how much the team has bought in and battle for each other, Powell explains: "I don't know what (vegetable) means. It doesn't make sense to me. But if it's all for the team, I'll yell it."


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