Over the last three games, Modesto Junior College’s defensive unit has limited opponents to nine points per game and driven opposing offensive coordinators to the brink of throwing hats, clipboards and Gatorade bottles.
Seems the old adage that you play like you practices is true then. Because the Pirates’ defense gets plenty of practice driving its own offensive coordinator bananas.
“Practice is fun,” said sophomore nose tackle Rob Luckett during an interview in the team’s football offices.
“We love picking on the offensive coordinator,” said sophomore Kekupa’a Freehauf, a member of multiple state championship teams at Central Catholic.
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“We know when Coach (Rusty) Stivers is yelling at the offense …” started Luckett.
“That we’ve won the day,” finished sophomore linebacker Robby Huddleston.
From across the hall where the interview is being conducted, sits Stivers, working on game preparation for Saturday’s Valley Conference tilt against Fresno City at MJC stadium. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.
“You guys are full of it,” Stivers shouts, jokingly, from the office across the hall.
The sophomores, along with freshman defensive end Mustafa Johnson, bust out laughing.
Another OC bites the dust.
Stivers is happy to talk about his defensive front – he’s just not wild about practicing against it – and readily points out that the unit carried the team as it struggled to an 0-3, start and has led the charge as the team has evened its record at 3-3.
“The defensive front carried us when we were going through some growing pains,” said Stivers, now in his third season as the Pirates’ head coach. “The last three games we’ve really come together.”
With the offense and other parts of the defense playing catch-up, the “box – the front seven defenders – proved to be a strength. Sophomore defensive linemen Sifa Tuavao (6-3, 330) and LJ Alafaituli (6-3, 280) provide depth, giving Stivers the necessary pieces to keep a rotation of fresh players in the trenches. But what impresses Stivers most about this unit is the camaraderie they display.
“We have a lot of high character players,” said Stivers. “Good, quality people and that makes it fun to work with them.”
The players agree. While you don’t necessarily have to be best friends with the teammate to your left or right, it certainly helps.
“Our motto is “One,” said Johnson, the Central California Conference player of the year at Turlock High. “Can you really be one as a unit without liking the guy next to you?”
Modesto’s defense will be tested against Fresno City, a program that eschews the trendy spread offense and utilizes a pro-style set that features a fullback and multiple tight ends. In other words: power football that will test MJC’s defensive front.
“They’re the anamoly now,” said Stivers. “Now, everybody tries to spread you out. (Fresno) constantly tries to out-formation you.
“It will be a test for the box.”