Defensive trio earns all-region recognition
After a season filled with everything from comeback victories and last-second losses to player suspensions and a blowout win over archrival Carson, it might have been easy to overlook one of the most consistent pieces of the Douglas High School football program in 2005.
The solid unit was maligned by injuries, poor starting field position on average and 25 giveaways on the year but it remained strong enough to hold its opponents to an average of 91 passing yards and 189 rushing yards per game.
Coaches from around the Sierra League and the Northern 4A took notice of the underrated group, naming three Tiger defenders to the all-region team, which was released Sunday.
“That just happened to be the way thing worked out this year,” said Douglas coach Mike Rippee, whose Tigers finished the year 4-6 overall. “We happened to have a good group on defense. Bottom line is that when you are selected, the other coaches in the area get a good look at you on film and then in person.
“It’s a huge honor to be recognized for your play by the other coaches in the league.”
Senior nose guard James Barnard and junior linebacker Brent Koontz were each first-team All-Northern 4A honorees and junior cornerback Cole Hamzik was a second-team All-Northern 4A honoree.
“We did some good things on defense this year,” Rippee said. “There were times that things broke down a bit, but this group played hard all year long. We did some real good things and we tried to get better every week.
“These three guys that got selected, they were representative of the attitude and effort we tried to portray on defense all year long,” Rippee said.
All three were first-team All-Sierra League honorees as well.
Barnard, lining up at just 5 feet, 8 inches and 168 pounds, was the keystone of the defensive line. He had a devastatingly quick move off the ball that allowed him to knife through opposing offensive lines and into the backfield.
He had three sacks on the season to go with two fumble recoveries and a blocked punt. He also had a distinct knack for finding his way to the initial point of contact.
“J.J. is just a hard, hard worker,” Rippee said. “He is a total team player, very coachable. He’s all the things you ask for out of a play.
“He wasn’t necessarily the biggest guy, but he got off the ball reak well and really took care of the blockers which freed up our linebackers. He put in the work over the offseason and the season he had was really no surprise to us. He was totally committed to this team.”
Koontz, a 6-2 193 junior, was a preseason all-state pick on the defensive line, but started out the year playing strong-side linebacker for the Tigers.
Halfway through the year, he had to shift to middle linebacker when starting senior Henry O’Hair went down with a season-ending leg injury.
“Brent made a pretty big move twice this year and he just took it all in stride,” Rippee said. “He played that middle and took control of the defense very well. He had some outstanding games on the outside and had some more outstanding games from the middle.
“We had some good linebackers this year and he led the group.”
Koontz picked off two passes on the year and was a strong tackler, but his contributions were not limited to the defense. He also earned a second-team all-league nod at tight end, which was also a new position for him coming into the year.
He caught 16 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns on the year. He was the team’s top receiver through the second half of the season, catching all three of his touchdowns in the final three games of the year.
“There were some good tight ends in the league this year and I certainly feel he belonged near the top with them,”Rippee said. “We got him more involved in the offense as the season went on. He has a great set of hands and is incredibly tough over the middle.”
Hamzik started the year simply as a cornerback, but was pressed into starting duty at quarterback late in the season.
On defense, he hauled in two interception and established himself as one of the top cover corners in the region.
“He was just real steady back there for us,” Rippee said. “He was real good on run support and probably could have had a couple more interceptions that just slipped out of his hands. He found his way to the right places and other coaches saw that.”
In three starts at quarterback, Hamzik threw for 447 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s a real quiet kid but he works very hard and people respect that,” Rippee said. “He’s very tough and he hung in the pocket and was willing to stay there and throw the football. He had some big completions for us late in the season and did a real nice job overall.”
The fact that two of the three honorees were juniors this year wasn’t lost on Rippee.
“It’s always nice to have guys like that back in uniform for next year,” he said. “The juniors on the whole made a big impact on this year’s team and we’ll be looking to them again next year.”
In total, the Tigers had 13 juniors and one sophomore starting at one point or another this season.
Among those was defensive end/fullback Phil Mannelly who was named second team all-league on defense.
“Phil is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, workers on the team,” Rippee said. “There were some very good defensive ends in the league this year, but he got better every game and played through some injuries. He played a little fullback for us at the end of the year.
“He will be one of our team leaders and best players next year.”
Another second-team all-league returnee will be Ryan Pruitt, who started at both linebacker and fullback this season.
“Ryan is one of those tough kids that his size doesn’t indicate how tough he is,” Rippee said. “He played a lot both ways and played through two bad shoulders and a bad ankle. You couldn’t keep him out of the lineup. He’s a wrestler and you always get tough kids from that program.
“He was as good or better than some of the guys that got picked above him for all-league or all-region, but that happens sometimes.”
A number of senior linemen earned second-team recognition for their efforts this season as well.
Cory Fry started the season as a defensive tackle, but saw his role expanded to the offensive line as well later in the year. He was recognized as a second-teamer at both positions.
“Cory Fry came so far from the time he entered the program to now,” Rippee said. “To earn that recognition on both sides of the ball, that is quite an accomplishment.
“Cory just stood out head and shoulders above the crowd and we had to have him in there. He bought into this program and he was exactly the kind of player we wanted out on that field.”
Matt Castro was another Tiger that saw time at multiple positions as the year progressed. In the end, it was his play at center that earned him a second-team all-league nod.
“Matt started out at tackle and we had to move him down inside to fill in after some injuries,” Rippee said. “Center is a tough position, but Matt said he’d do whatever it took for us to get better. Obviously, he did a good job.”
Senior Ryan Guzman was also recognized with second-team honors for his play on the offensive line, but he also had a solid season at defensive end.
“There are those guys that end up being the heart and sould of a team and Ryan was it for us,” Rippee said. “He’s 5-10, 167 pounds and he’s going up against guys that are up to 6-4, 220 every play of the game.
“He never stepped back, never gave any ground. He played both ways and on most of the special teams. He was out iron man award winner this year because you just couldn’t get him off the field.
“He’ll do everything he can to be successful. The odds were against him all year but he just kept pushing. Those are the guys you love to coach.”
Douglas also had two honorable mentions in seniors Trevor Freitas and Bryan Barnard, who were also instrumental to Douglas’ strong line play this season.
“Trevor went through a period where he was injured but he had as good an end to the season as anyone around,” Rippee said. “He did a great job and worked very hard and people around the league saw that.”
Barnard was in on five sacks this season and had an interception against McQueen. He worked himself into a starting spot on the offensive line as well as the season went on.
“Bryan is the same type of guy that we like to have on the line,” Rippee said. “He started one way and eventually worked himself onto the offensive line. Just a great kid to have on a team. He did a nice job for us all season.”
Nine of Douglas’ 12 honorees were on either the offensive or defensive lines, which was no surprise considering the Tigers had to contain some of the top linemen in the state this season in Reed’s Jerzy Sierwierski (Northern 4A lineman of the year), Hug’s Derek Kosub (Northern 4A defensive player of the year), McQueen’s Matt LaGrone and Sali Manu and Carson’s Zach Taylor and Eric Walther.
n Joey Crandall can be reached at email@example.com or at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.