The new voices in Nixa’s defensive huddle are the Eagles’ linemen. They're more vocal than usual because they represent the great majority of experience on defense returning from last season for coach Rich Rehagen.
“I expect leadership out of each one of them,” Rehagen said as the official start of practices kicked off Monday. “They’ve been through it before and take a lot of pride in what they’re doing. I want them to show the way.”
Expectations are that the defensive linemen will also lead the way into opposing backfields. Rehagen is hoping his linemen can be playmakers.
DeSean Downs is back after bursting upon the scene last year, when he collected 47 tackles, including a pair of stops for a loss. Trey Loden returns after being in on 32 tackles last year and Sam Davi is back after having 14 stops last season.
The consensus is Downs is primed for a breakout senior year.
“DeSean is a beast,” quarterback Reid Potts said. “He’s going to be one of the most athletic kids on the field every play.”
“I’m pretty excited,” Downs said. “It’s going to be a good year.”
Nixa lacked experience along its line last year and recoded a modest six quarterback sacks, with Downs getting to the quarterback twice. The Eagles plan on going after the signal-caller with reckless abandon more often this season.
“We’re going to be a lot more aggressive this year on defense in terms of our calls,” said defensive end Isaac Forbis. “We have the athleticism to do it. It’s not like we’re just filling gaps.”
Downs noticed during team camp that the linemen were ahead of where they were a year ago in regard to schemes.
“I feel like there is a lot less to learn and we can focus on fine-tuning things,” he said.
Forbis is primarily a tight end, but will see time at defensive end, as well.
“When they need me on defense, I’ll be ready for it,” he said. “I love offense and defense and will love the opportunity to get to do both.”
The Eagles are leaning on their linemen more than usual because their linebacking corps was all but gutted by graduation. Of Nixa’s top five tacklers last season, four were linebackers.
Downs said he and his fellow linemen have already made a point to have the defense reflect their own personalities.
“We try to keep up the energy for everybody,” Downs said. “When we get to the line after getting a tackle, we tap each other on the shoulder pads and high-five each other.”