Allatoona coach Gary Varner addressed his concerns back in spring practice, after leading his team to back-to-back state quarterfinal appearances. He said last spring that the entire team is going back to the basics.
That seems to be working so far.
Allatoona’s offense, with only one starter and one experienced skill player returning, has already scored 89 points in its first two games. Its defense, with just one starter back, hasn’t given up a point.
The defensive statistic appears to be the more surprising of the two.
The one returning starter for the Bucs defense is senior all-state linebacker Justin Wade, who brings leadership experience to the up-and-coming defensive players. He’s already got 19 tackles on the season, 12 solo, after finishing with 144 last season.
“Justin could have gotten (defensive player of the week) both weeks, he’s just that solid,” Varner said. “He can make it right whenever we do mess up.”
However, Varner is discovering quickly that there is more to his defense than just Wade.
“The No. 1 thing is that they are very coachable,” Varner said. “They’re very young and don’t have a lot of experience, but they practice hard every day. They listen and seem to be in the right spots more often than normal.”
How do they do it with an entirely new defensive line and an entirely new secondary?
Allatoona’s defense seldom makes mistakes, such as allowing a 10-yard play to turn into a 50-yard touchdown as a result poor tackling or committing careless penalties.
Allatoona’s front seven has set the tone in terms of physicality, and the brand-new secondary players play assignment football and know where to be.
And having continuity on the coaching staff has been a huge bonus. Defensive coordinator Troy Peterson, defensive line coaches Andy Wilcox and Bret Hubinger, linebackers coach Mike Dennison and secondary coach Kevin Pena have been responsible in Allatoona’s rapid development.
Cornerback Kameron Pena earned the defensive player award after Allatoona’s season-opening 50-0 win over Woodland-Bartow for contributing with tackles and pass breakups.
Linebacker Hunter Allen ended up with the award this past week after his 16 tackles helped the Buccaneers blank Paulding County 39-0.
Against Paulding County, Varner said it was the first time this defense had faced the option, which requires the defense to line up in the right spots to stop the run.
It took the first couple of possessions for the Buccaneers to adapt. Varner said the Patriots moved the ball before the defense was able to make adjustments. Once it did, the unit took over the game.
Allatoona held Paulding County to 136 total yards. The Buccaneers also forced a fumble, and John Njuguna had a 47-yard interception return that set up a touchdown.
Playing on the road this week against Rome could pose a new challenge for the Allatoona defense. It will be the first time the Buccaneers face a Wing-T offense, and Varner said the Wolves have two running backs who gave Allatoona fits last season before coming away with a 39-17 win.
But Varner also expressed concerns a week ago about stopping Paulding County’s option, and his defense stepped up to the challenge. However, Rome could be a different challenge. The Wolves were a playoff team last season, while Paulding County was 1-9.
“Anytime you go up against the Wing-T, it takes time to get used to the speed of the game and that could be an issue,” Varner said. “(Rome) has been running it for a while and they have different types of kids that can run it. Our kids have never played against it.”