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Warriors' defensive line making a stand
White County plays host to LaGrange in playoff opener
White County's Rick Anglin fights past Gainesville High's Chase England, right, to bring down Red Elephant running back Devon Pierce during Gainesville High's Region 8-AAA championship victory Friday night at White County High School.

State playoff brackets

CLEVELAND — For the first time since 2007, White County’s football program spent the first Monday afternoon following the end of the regular season by preparing for another football game. The stakes now are sudden death in the Class AAA tournament and the competition will also be good, but the Warriors (8-2) took to the practice field like it was just another practice, even though the excitement level has gone up a notch or two for Friday’s playoff opener against LaGrange (5-5).

“This is exciting to be in the playoffs,” Warriors junior defensive lineman Ben McGuire said. “We’ve worked our tails off to get to this point and now we’re trying to reach our goal of winning it all.

“We want people to know that White County football is no joke.”

With last Friday’s loss to Gainesville (9-1) now in the rearview mirror, the Warriors are now fully focused on their first round matchup against the Grangers, which coach Tommy Flowers said may prove to be the toughest opponent they’ve faced all season.

“LaGrange has big-play receivers and a heady quarterback,” Flowers said. “We’re definitely going to need a good game from our defense to come away with a victory.”

And that all starts with a veteran defensive line.

Classified as one of the team’s biggest strengths before the season started, White County’s defensive line is often complimented by the opposition as a hard-nosed, gritty group.

However, meshing the Warriors’ defensive line together was a bit of an effort to pull together some of the program’s biggest and strongest athletes, even though they were all used to playing varsity football when the current season began. At its core, defensive line is a position that requires players give up individual glory of name recognition for the sake of the team.

“Players on the defensive line might not always have that many tackles,” Flowers said. “But they can still do their job by clogging holes and freeing up the linebackers.”

At first glance, it’s easy to see that White County’s defensive line has plenty of size, led by 265-pound senior Adam Hooper.

“When the other team comes to the line, they know they’re going to get smacked in the mouth on every single play,” McGuire said.

White County starts three seniors up front with ends Rick Anglin and Hooper, defensive tackle Nick Black, and James Burnett, a regular off the bench. The only junior up front for the Warriors is McGuire, who now has two seasons as a starter under his belt.

“Our defensive line plays hard and they’re emotional kids,” Flowers added. “They really do a good job for us up front.”
Before the season started, the first piece of putting the current defensive line together was moving Hooper from linebacker, where he started for three seasons, to the defensive line.

Although Hooper was lukewarm to the idea initially put forth by former coach Gregg Segraves, he realized it was in the best interest of the team.

Hooper retained his duties for calls in the huddle for the defense, even though it is traditionally assigned to a linebacker. “Coming from linebacker, I knew what they were responsible for on the line,” Hooper said. “We have to make sure to keep the other team’s offensive line off of our linebackers so they’re free to make the tackles.”

Black converted to defensive line this season from his former post as an offensive tackle. He likes his current position more since he never played on offense until he got to high school.

He’s looking forward to one last go with the guys he’s bonded with the past few seasons and now plays with on the defensive line.

“It’s gonna feel great to have all my boys with me out there,” Black said. “Especially after we came up short of the playoffs the past two seasons.”

Hooper says that through their time beside one another on the field this season, they’ve meshed their skills together nicely.

Hooper and Black have the most size on the line, while McGuire and Anglin can use their speed and agility to get to the quarterback.

Last week, they improved from mistakes made in the first matchup against Gainesville this season, particularly when Red Elephants senior linebacker A.J. Johnson was in running the ball out of the wildcat formation. They remedied their previous problems by playing tighter at the line of scrimmage to limit gaps.

Against Stephens County, the Warriors’ line also kept sensational sophomore running back Chaz Thornton in check by controlling the midline option play that had moderate success for the Indians in the first half.

The biggest common thread that White County’s defensive line shares is that they want to see each other succeed for the team.

“I know if I don’t make a play on the same side of the line, then Adam will be right behind me to make it,” Black said.

“That’s my pride and joy to be out there playing with my buddies,” McGuire said. “Not just football players.”

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