Scooter Hickman and Brock Hunger celebrate against Linn-Mar/Tork Mason for Your Prep Sports.
By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Playing middle linebacker is all about instinct. The best at the position use their instincts to navigate their way to the football.
When it comes to slowing Pleasant Valley and its patented triple option offense the key for City High middle linebacker Brock Hunger is fighting those instincts.
“It’s all about playing your assignment and not the ball and fighting that instinct to chase the ball,” Hunger said. “It’s really hard just taking your guy even if you see the ball going the other way but you have to stay on your man because they will run a lot at you.”
Hunger knows exactly the type of challenge that awaits seventh-ranked City High (1-0) in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup with No. 6 Pleasant Valley (1-0) at Spartan Stadium in Bettendorf.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior linebacker got a close-up look at the Spartans’ triple option attack in City High’s 13-7 playoff win last season.
Hunger knows what it will take to stage a repeat defensive performance on Friday.
“It’s just assignment football,” Hunger explained. “You can’t worry about where the ball is you just have to take your man and do your assignment.”
Knowing what it takes to stop the Pleasant Valley rushing attack and actually slowing the Spartans are two different things.
City High senior linebacker Brock Hunger
Senior quarterback Terry Saul, junior fullback Arthur Braden and senior running back CJ Carter are three of the biggest reasons why stopping the Pleasant Valley triple option proves so difficult.
The trio combined for nearly 2,500 rushing yards and scored 25 touchdowns a year ago.
Saul (5-10, 185) ran for 117 yards and Braden (5-10, 190) had 162 yards in a 31-7 win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson in week one.
“Their quarterback is very good at running that offense and finding the crease and that is the thing that concerns me,” City High coach Dan Sabers said. “The outside pitch doesn’t concern me as much but the quarterback and the fullback are the two guys that I think really make it go for them when it’s going.”
Slowing Pleasant Valley is no easy task but City High showed in the second round of the 4A playoffs last season it had the formula.
City High held Saul to a career-low -13 yards rushing while limiting the Spartans to 137 yards on the ground.
Only state runner-up Bettendorf did a better job limiting Pleasant Valley’s run game last season, allowing just 105 yards in a week three win.
City High held Braden, Saul and Carter to a combined 68 yards in the playoff win last year.
“I think even though it was a while back I think that helps us,” Sabers said of last year’s success against the Spartans. “Of course as coaches it helps us too because we prepared for it them and every team has what they do very well and things they don’t do so well.”
A big part of slowing the Spartans is playing assignments rather than the football.
In an attempt to emphasis assignment football this week the City High defense practiced without a ball for much of the week.
The only objective during those drills was doing your job.
“We haven’t had a ball for three days we’ve just been working on assignments,” Hunger said. “You can’t worry about where the ball goes.”
City High enters Friday as confident as it is well schooled on defense.
The Little Hawks are coming off a week-one performance in which they limited Linn-Mar to a pair of field goals, 225 yards of offense and forced three turnovers.
“I think this is a pretty confident group,” Sabers said of his defense. “ I think they can be pretty special before it’s all done.”
The City High front seven will be key if City High is to slow the Spartans for a second straight time.
Defensive linemen Charles Johnson, Jordain Buckland, Joey Schnoebelen and Scooter Hickman along with linebackers Hunger and Dillon Africa will be at the heart of a City High defensive plan.
“That defensive line showed up pretty well last week,” Sabers said. “Our linebackers are a little inexperienced but we have two great kids back there in Brock Hunger and Dillon Africa. Those guys are going to be big this week.”