By Gene Phelps
Trent Hammond learned early – in the first quarter of the season opener – that his defensive unit was resilient when faced with adversity.
The first-year head coach of the Tupelo Golden Wave watched one of his defensive backs strip the ball from Lafayette’s receiver only to see another opposing player pick up the loose ball to complete a 67-yard touchdown play.
“That’s as bad as it gets,” Hammond said. “From that point on our kids kept playing. They learned right out of the gate that bad things are going to happen.
“The key is how do you respond to those bad things.”
Tupelo went on defeat Lafayette 36-21 on its way to a 13-2 record, a North state championship victory against South Panola and a berth in the Class 6A state championship game – the program’s first in 21 seasons.
One of the main reasons for the Golden Wave’s success was the play of its defense. Tupelo allowed an average of 10 points per game, recorded two shutouts – one against power Olive Branch – and held South Panola to 17 points total in two games.
In the state championship game loss to Oak Grove, the high-powered Warriors, who came in averaging 40 points per game, needed a trick play to capture a 14-7 victory.
For its efforts all season, Tupelo’s defensive unit – starters and reserves – have been named the 2013 Daily Journal Defensive Player of the Year.
“This wasn’t a defense where one guy did everything,” Hammond said. “Everybody chipped in. It was a blue-collar effort. This group played hard every single snap.”
‘Big we, little me’
Senior inside linebacker Ashton Wedel believes the key to the Wave’s defensive success was the unit’s unselfish play.
“Our concept was ‘big we, little me,’” said Wedel, who recorded a team-high 140 tackles. “You do your job and everything will work out.”
Hammond, who admits to being “a defensive guy,” brought a 3-4 scheme with him from his previous coaching stops. He was pleased with how well his defensive coordinator Lamar Aldridge, the defensive assistants and the players adapted to the alignment.
“They got better and better every week,” he said. “We don’t try to do a lot. We wanted our kids to have no doubt what they were supposed to be doing.”
Starters: NG Jamal Wren, DE Demarcus Rogers, DE Shaun Kohlhiem, OLB Marcus Robinson, OLB Justin Clifton, ILB Ashton Wedel, ILB James Gilleylen, S Michael Ray, S Antonio Clifton, CB Iverson Ivy, CB Otis Wilson
Reserves: DB Chad Gunn, DB Quinton Lauderdale, DL Alyjiwon Johnson, LB Malick Coleman, LB Patrick Games