The Keller Fossil Ridge football team is undefeated and taking the driver’s seat for a shot at a district title, even though the season is only halfway through.
And while the high-scoring offense is getting much of the early ink, the Panthers’ defensive front four are doing their part.
The foursome includes senior Alex Alvarado at tackle, senior Arnold Saidov at defensive end, junior Klein Mulongo at defensive end and junior tackle Rafael Hernandez.
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As a group, they’d registered 19 sacks before their victory last week against Abilene.
Saidov, a defensive end, led the state with 13 sacks. He also had 56 tackles and four forced fumbles.
He usually doesn’t get the double-team attention he deserves because there’s three other poisons to pick from.
Their relentless attack on the quarterback and anyone else who wants to touch the football on offense is something to see.
“It’s a party at the football,” Saidov said of the saying the defense has when it comes to pursuing the ball.
“We want all 11 men at the football, having a party,” echoed Alvarado.
We don’t feel overshadowed. We stressed in the offseason, there’s no such thing as offense and defense. The offense puts points on the board and they work hard just like us. We’re not divided, just all one Panthers.
Defensive end Arnold Saidov
The success the defensive front has had isn’t shocking to people like Saidov.
“It’s not a surprise to me. We work hard in the weight room and with running, and we’ve done all the extra work. We feel like we practice at game tempo. We just want to keep building onto that,” Saidov said.
Even so, many may look at the ever-increasing size of offensive linemen and wonder if the Panthers’ front is a little undersized.
Alvarado and Hernandez are 6-1, 250, while Mulongo and Saidov (6-2) are a bit lighter at 225.
Saidov noted that Fossil Ridge has historically been undersized on the defensive line.
“We know we’re undersized, but we play big,” he said.
The two seniors will likely be playing at the next level, and Alvarado hopes to catch up to his brother, former Ridge player Anthony Villalobos, who’s playing at Navy.
Before they graduate, the upperclassmen are on-the-field mentors to the juniors — who don’t play like youngsters.
Alvarado and Saidov said they treat their colleagues as seniors. “We’re all accountable,” they said.
But for the defense to stand out on the Panthers takes some doing, considering the offense has been so explosive.
“We don’t feel overshadowed. We stressed in the offseason, there’s no such thing as offense and defense,” Saidov said. “The offense puts points on the board and they work hard just like us. We’re not divided, just all one Panthers.”
And, if it’s not the offensive getting the limelight, the defensive linemen know they have other priorities which always aren’t so glamorous.
The line normally take on the blocks and let the linebackers make plays.
“We have gap control and keep the O-line off the ‘backers,” Alvarado said. “If we make plays, that’s just barbecue on pork.”