Sports

Lions look to stout defense | Prep football

Auburn Mountainview
Auburn Mountainview's starting linebacker corps, from left, junior Antonio Corea and seniors Jason Sele and Aeron Watson.
— image credit: Shawn Skager

Ever since fourth-year coach Jared Gervais took over the Auburn Mountainview football program, the Lions have been known for their high-powered, spread offense.

Fully loaded with talented wide receivers and strong-armed quarterbacks, the Lions typically looked to rack up as many points as possible, with the defense just hoping to bend, not break.

But this year, change is in the air, starting with the Lions' defensive unit.

On offense, Auburn Mountainview returns just four starters, including receiver Ryan Lacy and quarterback Gresch Jensen.

On defense, however, the Lions return nine players from a squad that only got better as last season rolled along. At the top of the list of returners, the team's linebacker trio of – seniors Aeron Watson and Jason Sele, and junior Antonio Corea.

"We're actually a little returner-heavy on defense this year," Gervais said. "Obviously we've got our three starting linebackers back. Altogether we've got nine returners on defense."

Last season Auburn Mountainview struggled to cobbled together a 3-7 overall record, 1-4 in the South Puget Sound League 3A.

Through the first five games of the 2013 season, the Lions gave up a whopping 217 points, notably amassed in blowout losses to 4A Camas (69-24) and SPSL 3A rival Enumclaw (55-28).

But halfway through the season, the defensive unit began to gel. Starting by holding Peninsula to 17 points and Lakes to 24, Auburn Mountainview gave up 120 points in its final five contests.

"We improved a lot at the end of last season, so this defense is pretty tough," Gervais said. "It took them a little while to figure it out last year, but hopefully, we're back this season where we left off."

And everything starts with Corea, Sele and Watson.

"Aeron is our starting middle linebacker, and is the heart and soul of our team," Gervais said. "He calls the plays on defense and breaks the huddle. He's undersized (5-foot-8, 185 pounds), but loves to fly around, a hyper-aggressive type of kid. The type of kid that if you could put him in a 6-4 body, it'd be awesome.

"Jason is just an amazing athlete. You watch the kinds of plays he makes, the angles he takes and the reads that he makes, pretty much everything is awesome," Gervais added. "Antonio is a junior, started last year as a sophomore. He came in our second game and just started doing a great job."

As for Watson, he welcomes the leadership role.

"We have to come out heavy everyday," Watson said. "It used to be the offense that set the tone, this year it's the defense at practices. We just have to come out and get everybody pumped. I've always been the team vocal leader, so I feel it just falls right into what I do."

On the field, the Lions rely on speed to make plays.

"We're very aggressive, and we all fly to the ball," Watson said. "We all like to get in on the action. Our weakness would be our reads. They're not the best right now, but that comes with real game experience."

Sele said he also enjoys the added attention and responsibility.

"I like it way better now because everybody was always looking down at us as a defense," he said. "They were always saying, 'Who is this school? They've done nothing.' But now they know what we can do because of the end of last year. But this year, we're always together. It's a chemistry thing. We work together well. If we're off, if one player falls down, another is going to pick them up. It's a family, togetherness."

Corea added:

"It seems like the past couple years the team was a little more offensive. But this year we've got a little more defensive mind set. The past couple of years people would run over us and think of us as one of the bottom defenses. This year we've got some good guys on varsity. All the summer conditioning and passing leagues have got us ready for the season and got our mindset. Everyone is on the same page. Our defense has improved so much over the last year."

This season the Lions play in a revamped SPSL 3A, Sumner coming up from 2A, and Auburn and Auburn Riverside dropping down from 4A.

Despite the fierce competition the Spartans, Trojans and Ravens add, Gervais and his linebackers welcome the new league.

"We're just really excited to get to play Auburn and Auburn Riverside, to have the rivalries going on in the city again, and the chance to get to play for guys in the regular season," Gervais said. "We've played Sumner a lot. They're still there. It's nice to play them in the regular season now. The new league just makes sense with all the Auburn schools, the Sumner schools. It's really competitive though. There are no gimmes."

"We actually get to have some new rivalry against some other teams," Watson said. "And we get to compete for the Auburn trophy, which we never did before. And we always like playing Sumner. They're like a rival, but now the games count."

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