City High seniors Naeem Smith and Vance Dillon
By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – For a defensive back there is no time for hesitation. One moment of indecision in the secondary can lead to a big play.
Naeem Smith is aware the dangers associated with hesitating for a free safety.
That is why even when it comes to answering questions about the City High secondary there is never a moment of delay for Smith.
“We’ve always told ourselves we are the best DBs in in the state and we want to go out and prove it to everybody,” Smith said quickly when asked how good the City High defensive backfield can be. “People may not believe that but that’s what we believe and we are trying to make a statement out there.”
Just a few games into the season Smith and his teammates in the Little Hawk secondary are making a strong case to back up that claim.
Led by Smith and starting cornerbacks Vance Dillon and Zach Jones the Little Hawks have established themselves as a pain for opposing quarterbacks.
Opponents are completing less than 37 percent of their passes against the Little Hawks this season.
City High has four interceptions in two games which ties for second most in Class 4A.
“We say every day we believe we are the best DBs in the state,” Dillon said. “That’s what we are going to play like.”
Naeem Smith runs against Linn-Mar on Aug. 26. Tork Mason/For Your Prep Sports.A City High secondary which also includes physical safeties Gabe Nkumu (6-1, 200) and Bryce Hunger (6-2, 180) to compliment speedsters like Jones, Smith and Dillon certainly isn’t lacking for confidence.
And that’s just fine with head coach Dan Sabers.
“That is a confident group back there,” Sabers said. “There is no doubt about that, they are a confident group and I’ve been pushing them to play that way.”
The City High secondary has a reason to be confident after its first two performances.
City High allowed 71 yards through the air in a season-opening win over Linn-Mar and held Pleasant Valley to 64 passing yards in a 19-17 win last Friday.
The strong secondary play has helped City High to a 2-0 record and a No. 5 rankings in Class 4A.
“They are aggressive, they attack the ball and I want them to play with that swagger a little bit,” Sabers said. “They are tough to throw over in the mid-level range where people like to hit you and stretch you out vertically. They’ve been good, we’ve been coaching them hard and they are responding well.
Smith (5-10, 173) was a third-team all-state pick a year ago after making 40.5 tackles from his free safety spot while Dillon (5-11, 175) had three interceptions a year ago from his cornerback spot.
Zach Jones stepped into the other corner back spot this season while Nkumu and Hunger have filled the other safety spot.
The talent across the secondary makes competition intense at practice.
“We all work each other we are all pushing each other,” Smith said. “We do one-one-ones with each other so we are all making each other better.”
Smith and Dillon have picked up right where they left off last season.
Smith made a diving interception to stop a Pleasant Valley drive last week and Dillon picked off two passes in the win over Linn-Mar.
Dillon returned his second interception 66-yards for a touchdown in week one.
“That happened a lot last year where people would watch film on us and they would see that Naeem was a really good player so they really didn’t try to him but they did come to my side and sometimes they would get it,” Dillon said. “I did a bunch of work this summer so that won’t happen this year. I like when people come to my side it gives me an opportunity to make a big play.”
Dillon, Smith and the rest of the secondary will be put to the test the next two weeks beginning with Friday’s meeting with Ames (1-1) at Bates Field.
Ames quarterback Joe Evans has completed 63 percent of his passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Waiting in week four is a matchup with cross-town rival West High and standout receiver Oliver Martin.
“They are a confident group but I think we will really find out a lot more where we are at pass defense wise when we get to Ames and West High,” Sabers said.