Confident Defenders Drive Merritt Island Success

By  //  November 16, 2012

Stingy Mustangs Strive For Shutouts

BREVARD COUNTY • MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA – High-scoring football fans, stay away from Merritt Island tonight.

Merritt Island’s hard hitting defense has only given up 64 points all season heading into Friday’s Class 5A regional semifinal against Jensen Beach. (Shutterstock image).

If you come to the O-Dome tonight to watch the scoreboard light up, the Mustangs defense will gladly disappoint you.

The No. 7 ranked Merritt Island Mustangs football team has marched and grinded their way to a 9-1 record this season. Despite a high profile offense led by junior quarterback Nick Smith, old-school Mustangs fans have flocked to Merritt Island High to watch the defense hit.

And boy do they hit hard.

The Mustangs defense has only given up 64 points all season. The 4-3 style defense notched four shutouts this season and came within a field goal shy of making it five.

Giving up 6.4 points a game would make their Black and Gold counterparts in Pittsburgh proud.

According to head coach Jeff McLean, his defensive staff has been great in molding its players to play the right way.

“It’s a real tribute to our defensive coaches,” McLean said. “They’ve done a great job of preparing them and instilling the pride about playing full speed on every play. Everywhere we go; the (opposing) coaches tell us that our kids just play so darn hard.”

“These kids have taken on the attitudes of the defensive coaches which are to play hard and bend but don’t break.”

Senior nose guard Caleb Bullard has been one of those players leading the Mustangs defense. Bullard finished the regular season fifth in the county with 4.5 sacks. In Caleb’s words, his primary job is to “eat blocks, double teams and chew up the blockers for the backers”. He wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

“Our defense has been relentless getting to the ball,” Bullard said. “We’re going full speed and 100 percent. When everyone is sprinting to the ball and all getting in on the tackle, it’s easy to play great defense.”

Merritt Island defenders try to keep it simple in practice and work on wrap up tackling, hitting low and staying on assignments. (Shutterstock image)

Senior left defensive tackle Joshua Zirkle has been another stalwart along the Mustangs line. Playing in the “3-technique”, Zirkle is able to shed blockers and rush the backfield, making it a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Defensive tackles don’t normally pile up the sack totals of their defensive end counterparts but Zirkle still finished with four sacks this season.

Zirkle credits the successful season the defense has had so far to its passion.

“We have a lot of smart, passionate players who are very intense during the game,” Zirkle said. “We always find a way to keep focused. Even if we get down, we always find a way to come together as a team and dominate the offense.”

Even at practice, the Mustangs defense keeps it simple. Wrap up tackling, hitting low and staying on assignments is the norm. To Zirkle, it’s the little details that matter.

“We just work on our technique every day in practice,” Zirkle said. “We’ve been getting better at what we do. You fix the little things, the big things come easy. It’s easier that way. We will always find a way to come together as a team.

Going into tonight’s regional quarterfinal matchup vs. (5-5) Jensen Beach, Zirkle offered some simple advice that the coaches have prepared for them this week.

“We have to stay focused, remember our technique, know our assignments, be where you’re supposed to be and everything else will work out like it’s supposed to.”