Linebacker Charles Lawson was among the many newcomers to Ozark’s defense who shined last week during their very unofficial debut as starters on the varsity level.
At the Tigers’ first night of 7-on-7 action against Parkview, Bolivar and Monett, Ozark’s almost completely fresh set of linebackers and defensive backs collected nine, count ‘em nine, interceptions.
“There are a lot of new faces on the varsity and we're coming along great,” Lawson said. “People are flying around and trying to execute. We’re getting bits of the taste of (varsity ball) and seeing where people fit. It's going to be a process, but we're going to get there.”
Only one defender, linebacker Parker Elliott, saw significant playing time on Friday nights last year.
Ozark’s defense was without returning starting linebacker Jace Whatley, along with cornerback Sam Clark, as they were attending a basketball shootout at Marshfield.
“We showed out tonight and when they come back, we'll be even better than we were tonight,” linebacker Frankie Munoz said.
Safety Peyton Bullinger and cornerback Sterling Stine combined for seven interceptions.
The repeated stops for the Tigers’ defense generated increased confidence as the night went along.
“When you see other people do good, you want to do just as good,” cornerback Marco Cardenas said. “We were hawking the ball down, playing aggressive football. We have a lot of good, quick, athletic players.”
Stine set the tone for the defense with a pick at the goal-line on Parkview’s opening offensive series.
“That was a confidence-builder and energy-booster for everyone,” Elliott said. “We started playing harder after that.”
Elliott and Bullinger are among a slew of juniors likely to fill starting roles on offense and defense. They were part of Ozark’s freshman team that was undefeated two years ago.
Naturally, they are excited to finally get the shot at full-time varsity playing time.
“Whenever we get the chance to compete, that's what we're all about,” Bullinger said. “We love to play and we’re in it to win it. We've been grinding in the off-season and this is what we showed off. It was a great effort. We even left a couple (interceptions) on the table, we could have had some more. There's always room for improvement.”
“We set the bar so high that nine is not enough,” Munoz said.
Munoz certainly is setting the bar high for Bullinger, perhaps a bit too high. But he's not afraid to voice his confidence in Bullinger.
“With Peyton out there playing center field (at safety), he can fly. I promise you, I got him getting 15 picks this year,” Munoz said.
Ozark will again host two hours of 7-on-7 tonight.