|Blake Keller gets a sack in last year's state title game|
|Calloway in pursuit of current Georgia QB Faton Bauta|
|Demarcus Christmas gets a sack in last year's playoffs|
|Keller and Dawsey pursue Jackson at the Citrus Bowl|
BRADENTON – Fort Pierce's defense gave Manatee's high-powered offense its toughest game of the year last season, as the Cobras were the only team to keep the Hurricane offense out of the end zone, in a 13-10 loss that ended Ft. Pierce Central's season. For Manatee, it was their defensive line that also stepped up, putting constant pressure on the QB, while containing one of the best RB's in the state, Marcus Levy, who returns this season for Ft. Pierce.
In fact, during last year's post-season, it was the defensive line more than any other part of the team that came up big at critical times for Manatee. In addition to shutting down the Ft. Pierce passing game and keeping the lid on Levy, the 'Canes front-four were able to contain blue-chip QB Faton Bauta, who's currently playing for Georgia, allowing Manatee to squeak out a 19-14 win against Dwyer, in the semi-final game that followed their victory over Ft. Pierce. In the state championship win over Jacksonville First Coast, Derrick Calloway sacked star QB DeAndre Jackson three times enroute to a 40-0 shutout.
Manatee returned all four of their starting 2011 defensive lineman, who've only become more dominant with another season under their belts. Tonight, defensive-line coach Steve Gulash will be looking for his vaunted front-four to put on a repeat performance, once again containing the explosive Levy, the Cobras' Cincinnati-bound RB, while pressuring Ft. Pierce's new QB, talented 6'3 junior, Sam Vaughn.
Manatee's line is a perfectly-balanced attack. Defensive ends Marquis Dawsey and Blake Keller are prototype speed rushers who get outside the tackles and quickly begin collapsing the pocket. With limited room to roll out in a scramble, opposing QB's are bottle-necked into a narrow alley haunted by Manatee's two enormous tackles, Demarcus Christmas (6'4 290 lb.) and Derrick Calloway (6'2 310 lb.). Christmas and Calloway are not just big, they are also unthinkably fleet and agile.
This leaves a QB with roughly enough time to get through his first or second look before he must decide whether to abort any thoughts of passing the football. And when the QB gets hit, he gets hit. After a few sacks and a couple of times getting pancaked on the release, the punishment begins to take its toll and the performance of even the best signal callers begins to deteriorate.
For Gulash's crew, the smell of fear only inspires them to crank up the pressure. There's a point, and sometimes it's been reached with incredible haste this season, where you can literally see the wind fall out from under an offense's sails. When they know the passing game is not happening – and when they must submit to the reality of a run-dominated attack that everyone knows is coming – an offense can literally deflate.
It was this kind of dominance that saw the 'Canes route a very good Palmetto team 62-0 when the teams met up while both were undefeated back in week 8. The Palmetto offense was neutralized almost immediately, before sinking into survival mode for the rest of the game.
It's not just opposing coaches who've noticed the trove of talent in the Manatee trench. College scouts have gone ga-ga over the elite foursome. Calloway is ranked as one of the top tackle prospects in the nation and has at least 20 D-I scholarship offers, including USC, Texas Tech, Louisville and Arkansas. Blake Keller has already committed to UCF, and Dawsey, who also has 4 TD's at RB this season, has interest from USF, as well as several D-II offers. Christmas, who's only a junior, has already verbally committed to Florida State, despite an offer from Alabama.
Click here for a full preview of tonight's game.
|L to R: Demarcus Christmas, Derrick Calloway, Marquis Dawsey and Blake Keller|