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It’s up to the Saugus defense

Veteran group of defenders will be key for Saugus

Posted: August 6, 2013 10:05 p.m.
Updated: August 6, 2013 10:05 p.m.
Saugus senior defensive back Dakota Taylor is one of nine of the team’s returning defensive starters. Saugus senior defensive back Dakota Taylor is one of nine of the team’s returning defensive starters.
Saugus senior defensive back Dakota Taylor is one of nine of the team’s returning defensive starters.

The back end of Saugus’ defense took its lumps last year, and the players have no problem admitting it.

But nearly every member of a unique, tight-knit group of linebackers and safeties return with a new sense of responsibility and desire for redemption.

Following a 3-9 season and riding a four-year stretch without a playoff victory, this team’s turnaround could depend heavily on this experienced collection of defenders.

“We feel like carrying the team because offense, even though they’re pretty stacked, defense is going to have to carry the team,” said Saugus middle linebacker Austin Davenport.

The senior is one of nine returning starters on the defensive side of the ball for the Saugus Centurions. He’s also one of three seniors — joining safeties Dakota Taylor and Steven Kwak — who is coming back as a third-year varsity player.

Davenport and Taylor were both Signal All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team defensive players a year ago. Davenport was offered a football scholarship to New Mexico State earlier in the summer.

It’s that type of experience and talent that’s making all the difference for the unit.

“There was one point during summer where everything clicked and we just turned the corner,” Taylor said. “Everyone started going around better. Our (defensive backs) started understanding the coverages, making plays. Our linebackers were where they needed to be to help us out.”

The core of the defense is a veteran group of linebackers and safeties. There’s Davenport and Blake Austin as middle linebackers with Austin McKinney and Zach Gragas on the outside.

Kwak played linebacker last year and made the switch to safety to play alongside Taylor and Noah Belt, who is also in the rotation.

Saugus head coach Jason Bornn said all of those players are capable of handling linebacker and safety duties, and that gives this defense much-needed versatility against a pass-happy Foothill League.

“We struggled at times last year in defending the pass and we’ve worked tremendously hard on improving our pass defense,” Bornn said. “I thought we were pretty stout against the run last year, but we had some challenges to overcome in defending that pass. And I think we’ve worked hard all summer long in trying to perfect that.”

Part of the plan to improve the pass defense included some minor scheming changes as well. Given the abundance of experience on defense, coaches tweaked with some of the plays to take advantage of the unit’s high football IQ.

“When you have guys that have been in the system for four years (varsity and lower levels), they’ve got the base stuff down and when you have the base stuff down, you can start putting in new wrinkles and start switching coverages more and it’s a lot easier,” Davenport said.

The hope is that the work from the summer will start to pay off now. Early on in fall camp, the players are starting to like what they see.

“It’s a quiet confidence,” Kwak said. “No one really has a lot of respect for us, but we kind of have a quiet confidence and we know how good we can be. And we haven’t shown it.”



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