Frustration and embarrassment turned into resolve.
A year ago, the Mansfield Legacy football team’s defense absorbed the humbling blow of watching Aledo plant 59 points on it.
“That game really opened our eyes and that we have to get excited and play better,” junior safety Jalen Catalon said. “Our attitude had to change. It was on us to make the difference.”
There is nothing like momentum that can change how a unit feels about itself and its capabilities. Dating back to its playoff run in 2016 through the first two games of 2017, Legacy’s defense is a changed unit.
Despite returning only three starters this fall, the Broncos have been all-in through this stretch. Teams have combined to score 66 points (11 per game). Eventual Class 5A Division I state champion Highland Park only managed 14 points in its 14-7 victory over the Broncos in the Region II title game.
This 11 has also eliminated third down. The first two opponents, Wichita Falls Rider and Crowley, are a combined 3-22 (13.7 percent). Legacy has caused four takeaways.
Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup between the No. 10 Broncos and No. 1 Aledo at Bearcat Stadium will serve as a signature moment to see how far this defense has progressed. It will also serve notice on hopes for making another deep postseason run. Aledo has already scored 88 points.
“It’s about confidence. The scheme and how the coaches break it down for us is good. But all 11 of us have to be committed to running to the ball. If we carry that on to the field, it’s going to show up in the game.
“They’re all athletic and they are fast,” Legacy coach Chris Melson said of his defense. “It’s one thing to have athletes. But you have to have the discipline. It’s about reading and running. Speed is a great thing. Pursuit to the ball will mean a lot, because if one guy misses you, someone else is there.”
The Broncos made up for the heavy losses with a few transfers that have filled in the gaps to keep the 4-3 alignment intact. It starts with Oklahoma defensive tackle move-in Enoch Jackson (6-0, 260). The junior plugs the middle and has the athleticism to shade the center or guard. He’s alongside junior defensive tackle Taurean Carter (6-3, 250) who already has an offer from SMU.
Senior linebacker Demauryon Holmes (6-1, 190) could not play with the varsity last year because he moved in during the season. But at a Baylor camp in the summer, he tested at 4.46 in the 40. Senior linebacker Trey Wormley is a move-in from Fort Worth Paschal.
Because there is a better push up front, it will allow the secondary to be more ball hawkish. Melson doesn’t want Catalon to be his leading tackler again. Catalon had 183 in 2016. So far so good, as Catalon collected a fumble and interception in the 10-7 win over Crowley last week. He will patrol of the middle of the field.
“With Enoch, he can allow our linebackers to run free,” Melson said. “We started seeing that in spring practice. There were some glimpses that you made think that he could be pretty special. We’re blessed to have someone like Jalen in the back. You can throw down there. But the middle of the field is closed.”
Aledo won’t be the only test. District 10-5A’s landmine schedule of Lancaster, Mansfield Lake Ridge, Mansfield Timberview and Waxahachie will not allow any drop in intensity.
Maybe the shutdown pace won’t continue. In today’s wide-open football, playing defense is about making the right stops at the right time. The evidence supports there could be more for Legacy.
“It’s about confidence,” Catalon said. “The scheme and how the coaches break it down for us is good. But all 11 of us have to be committed to running to the ball. If we carry that on to the field, it’s going to show up in the game.”
NOTE: Mansfield Legacy at Aledo can be heard on KTFW 92.1 FM with the pregame show beginning at 7 p.m. For live updates, follow @dfwVarsity on Twitter.