Mart defense

Mart’s Zamar Kirven (right) and Camden Rhodes (left) bring down Bosqueville’s Jacob Bravo in a game earlier this season. The Panther pitched four defensive shutouts during district play this year.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Shatydrick Bailey walked onto the field with Mart’s defense in the Panthers’ first scrimmage of the season against Holland. And then, the 5-foot-3, 150-pound junior, took his place on the defensive line.

Kevin Hoffman chuckled when he thought back to the look on the other team’s faces.

“They were like, ‘Uhh, uh-oh,’ ” Hoffman said. “He was causing fits. He spent most of his time in the backfield getting sacks. He almost took a few handoffs.”

The Mart coaching staff had been trying to figure out where to plug Bailey in defensively. They had put him in at cornerback and then at outside linebacker. But something wasn’t right.

After the ruckus Bailey caused in the backfield against Holland, Hoffman and his staff knew they found the perfect place for Bailey. So far, Bailey has racked up 73 tackles, three sacks and two caused fumbles with one fumble recovery.

“All of our district opponents have said they specifically scheme up ways to try and slow him down,” Hoffman said. “They knew they couldn’t block him. He’s drawn a lot of double teams. Not that it get calls every time but a lot of kids have grabbed hold of him. Our defense, he’s a part of it. He just fits into what we try to do on defense with speed. You can’t coach speed. Speed kills.”

Obviously, speed isn’t just about this Mart offense that puts up an average of 60.4 points per game. Hoffman mentioned it multiple times. To be able to play on this Panther defense, the kids have to be able to run.

“Both of our defensive ends are big, can run and can hold their own,” Hoffman said. “All three of our linebackers can run and make plays. Our secondary guys, the main thig is they have to be some of the fastest kids on our team.”

And all of this speed fits in perfectly with Mart’s new defensive scheme. When Hoffman took over as head coach two years ago, the Panthers were running a 4-2-5. That’s what Mart ran in Hoffman’s first year at the helm. But even after a year in that system, Hoffman was still more comfortable with the scheme he played in as well as coached in for years prior – the 4-3. So before the 2016 season, Hoffman called up his high school buddy to help work out the specifics — Don Hyde. That’s right. La Vega’s defensive coordinator. Since 2015, the Pirates have allowed merely 13.8 points per game.

“They’ve had a lot of success over there,” Hoffman said. “We tried to copy what they were doing. They’ve been good to us. My defensive coordinator Shane Martin bought into the system and running what we do. That’s got a lot to do with it. Being in the second year of the system, our kids are more familiar with it.”

The changes weren’t drastic. Mart went from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 which brought in an extra linebacker. The Panthers try to keep seven in the box at all times. As far as the secondary is concerned, Mart now goes with more of a zone concept after running a lot of man in the past.

This year alone, Mart has given up 10.2 points per game with five shutouts.

“We beat Kerens 62-0 and held them to zero yards of offense,” Hoffman said. “Nowadays with people spreading it out and throwing the ball all around, for us to hold them to zero yards of offense was pretty amazing. We also had a game where we held someone to three yards and then another we held to 24 yards of total offense. Again, this goes to coach Martin and our kids buying into the system, running and playing fast and taking care of business.”

Mart now gears up for its area round playoff competition against Windthorst that will be played at 2 p.m. Friday at Pennington Field in Bedford. While the offense has stolen the show this year, the key to the Panthers’ season thus far has been their defense.

“Offense sells tickets and puts up big numbers,” Hoffman said. “But if you can play great defense and hold people to under 20 points, you can win a lot of football games. I don’t know the exact number but I think our turnover ratio is about +20 for the year. They’ve created a lot of problems for offenses. When people can’t run the ball against you, they have to throw it and become one dimensional. And we know what to do.”

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