BY WES FERGUSON
Christian Rodriguez and Kyle Cox have seen the headlines and heard the hype surrounding the Hays High offense this season.
They don’t begrudge the praise showered on their offensive teammates. After all, Hays deserves plenty of attention for the way it moves the football, with the Rebels racking up more than 33 points and 400 yards per contest through the first six games.
But Rodriguez, the team’s free safety, and Cox, a defensive end, would like to point out that Hays’ defensive players are no slouches, either.
“We always joke around with the offense how they get all the glory, but we feel we’re as good or better than they are,” said Rodriguez, who also puts in time as a wide receiver.
“Most of the time,” Cox added, “it’s the offense getting all the talk in the newspaper, and it’s the defense who puts it all out on the field.”
After playing in the shadow of quarterback Caleb Kimbro and the Rebels’ high-powered offense for most of the year, the defense finally took center stage against Clemens on Friday when three players returned interceptions for touchdowns.
But even before their lockdown performance against the Buffaloes, Cox and the rest of the Rebel defense have quietly put together some impressive numbers of their own. Hays has stifled the opposition’s rushing and passing attacks through the first seven games, allowing just 188 total yards and 10 points per contest.
Kimbro said the defense is “by far” the best he’s suited up with as a Rebel.
“They’re a bunch of maniacs, and they really fly around to get to the ball,” Kimbro said. “A lot of teams put up many points, but you’ve got to have a consistent defense to win championships.”
The statistics are even stingier if you subtract the 31 points that Kerrville Tivy’s offense put up in a disappointing 31-10 defeat on Oct. 5. Minus the Tivy game, the Rebel defense has allowed an average of just 5.5 points on Friday nights.
The poor performance against Tivy is still fresh in head coach Blake Feldt’s mind, however. He’s not ready for his players to start patting themselves on the back just yet.
“For us to be a great team, we’ve got to be great every week, and that’s harder than it sounds,” he said. “We’re one of the top teams in the district, and we’re one of the teams that everybody is gunning for. That’s a good position to be in, but you’ve got to be ready to play with all cylinders rolling every single week, and we certainly didn’t do that against Tivy.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Feldt added. “We’ve still got to get a lot better on both sides of the ball.”
Captain Devin Jennings, a senior middle linebacker, said the Tivy game was a gut check for the Rebels in their quest for a state championship.
“Tivy was a real physical game, which I love, but there were a lot of slip-ups and errors. It was a wakeup call, and I hope we play them later in the playoffs if that’s possible,” he said. “We’ll beat them for sure. That’s what I’m excited about, because I don’t like to lose.”
Along with veterans like Cox, Rodriguez, Jared Rodriguez and Jennings, Feldt said brothers Colin and Caleb Hubert have made big improvements in their senior year, and sophomore Emory Cuzze has turned some heads with his play at outside linebacker. Feldt also expects Will Trevillion, a Texas State recruit, to see more playing time on the defensive line as the season progresses.
“We’ve got a good group on the defensive side of the ball,” Feldt said. “The way we fly to the ball is the way you need to play defense. We’re a little bigger and stronger than we were last year, and a lot of those key guys are really experienced now. They’ve been through the war, so to speak, and they love playing football and they do a great job.”
“By training I’m an old offensive coach, but I learned very quickly that you win championships on defense,” he added. “If you’ve got a great defense, you’ve got a chance to be a great football team.”
Jennings said he and his defensive teammates are learning more and improving every week. They want to go to state so badly, they’re planning to “destroy” their bodies by the end of the season.
“I just feel the need to hit someone on every play,” he said. “I’m putting my entire body into this season. Football is my favorite thing to do. I just love football.”