The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 27, 2012

Rattlers' dominating defense ready to strike

By Jonathan Deal
jonathan@athensnews-courier.com

TANNER — 33 days.

That’s how long it’s been since Tanner’s defense allowed an opposing team to score. A streak that goes back to Oct. 26 in a 67-12 win at Phil Campbell. That was during the regular season when Tanner was steamrolling through its schedule, outscoring region foes 392-65.

But no one expected Tanner to do that during the playoffs, right?

Wrong.

In three playoff games this month, Tanner has yet to be challenged. The Rattlers have not allowed a point during the Class 2A playoffs, winning by an average score of 39-0.

“We could have had a few more shutouts during the season, but I never thought we would do it like this in the playoffs,” senior linebacker Dexter Douglas said. “Last year, we had a lot more attitude to us. We expect good things to happen now, so I guess that’s why we don’t make a big deal when we make a big play.”

At this stage last season, that Tanner team was allowing a measly 10 points per game. The 2011 Rattlers team made it to the schools first state championship appearance and will go down as one of the best in school history. Entering this season, few thought this year’s version could be even better.

The players are the same for the most part, the scheme is the same, but something is different. Douglas thinks he knows what’s different about the 2012 version.

“Everybody wants to play defense on our team,” Douglas said. “Everybody likes to hit. We take pride in our physicality. We want to get to the ball and make the hit. We all want to make big plays.  It’s kind of like we’re competing with each other. It’s a good atmosphere to have other guys around you that want the same things that you do.”

Playing solid, sound defense has become contagious among the defensive players. And so have the shutouts and wins. Tanner currently holds the state record for consecutive regular-season wins, region wins and is second in the state for consecutive wins on its home soil.

While it’s obvious talent has a lot to do with the success, this is a well-coached Tanner team. Standing on the sidelines, coaches are constantly communicating with the defense calling out tendencies from opposing offenses.

“We watch as much film as possible and pick up so many things,” senior defensive lineman Kyle Shoulders said. “It’s helpful to have something to look for to know when something might be coming. We’re out there telling each other what to look out for.”

Shoulders is a big part of Tanner’s success. The 6-foot, 230-pound Shoulders is well-known among Tanner’s opponents. If not before the game, certainly after.

“He deserves a lot of attention on the line,” Douglas said about his teammate. “They’re more worried about him than they are us and it frees us up to make plays. As long as he does what he’s supposed to do, then we’re going to be able to make tackles.

“The front four of our defensive line is our strong point. They’re always making plays. I don’t see too many people blocking (Kyle). They tried to double-team him, but he usually blows both of them up.”

Tanner’s opponent Friday, Reeltown, will be well aware of Shoulder’s ability. The Rattlers beat Reeltown last year in the second round of the playoffs. In 2010, Reeltown beat Tanner 34-0 in the second round.

Reeltown will be full of confidence, carrying a 12-game win streak into the game with an offense averaging 32 points per game. But that won’t scare Tanner. Tanner’s last two opponents averaged more than 40 points per game. Ask Walter Wellborn and Fultondale what they think of this Rattler defense.