By Adam Baum, firstname.lastname@example.org
After a 7-3 win over Colerain in Week 1, La Salle defensive coordinator Jay Roden, speaking about the defense, told The Enquirer, “They have a brotherhood I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Now, four weeks into the season, that brotherhood looks unbreakable.
La Salle’s defense has allowed just 10 points this season — including two shutouts — to help the No. 1-ranked Division II team in the state and three-time defending state champion Lancers off to a 4-0 start.
Had you told head coach Pat McLaughlin prior to the season that the defense would storm so strongly out of the gate, he admitted, “I probably would have said 'no way.' Even this week, those four weeks are over. Winton Woods is a good team. I think one of the things about football and our kids do a good job of it, is they put the last week behind them. I’ve said multiple times there’s no carryover from last week. You’ve got to go out and prove it every week.”
So far, they’ve done that, allowing a Greater Catholic League South best 151.3 yards per game. The top-three leading tacklers in the conference are La Salle junior linebackers Brody Ingle, Garrett Bledsoe and Jarred Uran, who’ve all been starting since they were freshmen.
Regarding the bond among his players, McLaughlin said, “Not just with our defense but with our entire team. Yesterday, somebody asked me a question about it … these guys like being around each other, they like coming to work, they like practicing, and obviously, they love playing on Friday night.”
In terms of size, La Salle’s defense isn’t imposing, and they aren’t loaded with seniors, neither of which has impeded them from playing together and flying around making plays. Which makes it even more impressive considering the Lancers implemented a new defensive scheme this season, using that smaller lineup to employ a three-four front with three down linemen and four linebackers.
“Given that we’re not really the biggest defense, we’re fairly small,” said senior Zach Rumpke. “We’re fast. Everybody has a lot of endurance. We run to the end of the whistle every play. We don’t take plays off.”
Bledsoe added, “I’d say we have the biggest heart.”
Senior Sam Hildebrand said, “We’re a special group. We all love each other. We have each other’s back. I look up and see them and I trust them like they’re my brothers. It is surprising (how well they've started), but at the same time, it’s not.
“We play with passion. It doesn’t matter if Brody, Garrett or Rumpke makes a tackle; we have 11 guys on the field jumping up and down, all excited. You see the sideline. They’re going crazy, the coaches are going crazy, and the crowd’s into it … we just play with passion and we love what we do.”
It’s a bond that’s been built over time, and arguably no team in the state has spent as much time on the field as La Salle has over the last three seasons.
“The thing I’ve learned most is they’re gonna play from beginning to end. They’re gonna play hard,” said McLaughlin. “I think it’s important to them, football is important to them, all the guys on the team are important to them and I think that goes a long way.”
Hildebrand added, “There’s also a bond between the coaches and the players. A lot of places, you’d be scared of your coach or he’s just a coach, but the coaches here are like father figures, like mentors. I see coach (Jay) Volker in the hallway all the time and we joke around. I can talk to him about anything, not just football. It’s a lot more than just football going on here.”
That bond will be tested again Friday night with a visit from Winton Woods (4-0), the No. 4 team in the Division II state poll. La Salle’s won three straight over the Warriors.