By Nate Thompson
The Sailor defense has been downright stingy during the team’s 4-0 start this season. Mona Shores has given up a grand total of 31 points, but as you look closer into the stat, the more impressive it becomes.
The Sailors, who host O-K Black foe Zeeland East on Friday, have yet to allow an offensive touchdown against Holland West Ottawa, Fruitport, Rockford or Caledonia.
The only points the defense has allowed came in Week 3 on a 51-yard field goal by Rockford kicker Quinn Nordin, a Penn State commit.
While the Sailor defensive unit doesn’t get the recognition that the flashy offense does, it’s clearly been getting the job done.
“We’ve given up three special teams touchdowns and a fumble return on offense in the game against Fruitport,” said Mona Shores’ head coach Matt Koziak. “It boils down to the outstanding preparation of our defensive staff, the kids believing in the system and of course, executing during games.
“But it helps to have a lot of talented players on that side of the ball.”
Ask members of the Sailors’ defense and they’ll admit they’re not surprised by the unit’s stinginess. They’re not cocky, but they are pretty confident.
“We kind of expect it,” said senior middle linebacker Dom Shermeta. “We prepare a lot on defense every week and we know our assignments. There’s a trust that we have in each other. I know they’ve got my back and I’ve got there’s.”
The unit’s success has a lot to do with experience. Shermeta is one of 10 senior starters on defense, and most of them have been playing together since the seventh grade. The only junior is defensive end Evan DeYoung.
Shermeta and fellow linebackers Spencer Stube and Kobe Burse are able to thrive, in large part, due to the big guys up front.
Shermeta said he gives all the credit for his tackling stats to the effectiveness of defensive tackles Christian Boyd and Mike Bordeaux, a pair of tree trunks who have each starred at the varsity level for three seasons.
Koziak said he marveled at Boyd and Bordeaux while watching film of the Sailors’ 30-7 victory at Caledonia last week.
“You see Mike take on two blockers and Christian draw a double team as well and they’re both planted right on the line,” Koziak said. “That means we’ve got our ends being single blocked or others not blocked at all. That’s huge.”
“That’s something we work on every day in practice,” added Bordeaux, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior. “Engaging the lineman and holding your ground. That’s very important.”
Bordeaux, who’s gaining recruiting interest from a number of Division 2 schools, says he loves playing next to Boyd, a 6-2, 265-pounder who recently took an unofficial visit to the University of Michigan.
“He’s a great player,” Bordeaux said. “Really, everyone on this defense is hard working. Everyone knows their role and performs to the best of their ability.”
Shermeta has performed at his best on both sides of the ball. Besides his stellar play at linebacker, he’s also totaled more than 400 yards rushing as the Sailors’ “change-of-pace” running back.
Known for their explosiveness at the wide receiver position and big-play ability with bubble screens, Shermeta makes the Sailors’ offense complete with his ability to ground-and-pound between the tackles.
And with the weather getting chillier as the season progresses, the more important Shermeta will become in the Sailors’ attack.
“I’m definitely not a 4.4 ( second 40-yard dash) guy,” Shermeta said. “I try to run with power. Really, I just like to hit people.”
He does that even better on defense.
“Dom’s so good at reading plays,” Koziak said about Shermeta’s play at linebacker. “He’s got the ability to go sideline to sideline, but he’s really honed in on reading his keys and that’s made him faster in chasing down ball carriers.”
A touchdown is bound to be scored against the Sailor defense at some point, but the group understands that stats don’t matter much. There’s a bigger picture in view.
“Our biggest obstacle is keeping our head on straight and not looking past anyone,” Shermeta said. “We have to prepare for each team like it’s a game for a trip to Ford Field. We have to keep that focus.”
Shermeta believes this year’s squad is better than last season — a groundbreaking campaign in which the Sailors finished 12-2 and reached the Division 2 state championship for the first time in program history.
“We’ve all went through Coach Koziak’s system from eighth grade until now,” he said. “We know what it takes (to get to Ford Field).”