Cole Mabry runs against Bettendorf of Oct. 28. Jeff Yoder/For Your Prep Sports.By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Typically safeties aren’t thought of as being critical factors in shutting down an opposing rushing attack.
Then again Dillon Doyle and Cole Mabry aren’t typical safeties.
Doyle and Mabry have the appearance of a defensive back with their build and athleticism but play like linebackers with their mindset and toughness.
On Friday, the tandem will need to be a little bit of both when West High (8-2) travels to sixth-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie (9-1) for a rematch with the Hawks and their high-powered rushing attack.
“I think it’s going to be physical and that is the kind of game that Dillon and I like to play,” Mabry said. “We are comfortable kind of up tight to the line of scrimmage more like a linebacker and that’s definitely how it’s going to be so we are looking forward to it.”
There have been plenty of factors that have contributed to West High’s improvements on defense this season.
The addition of Mabry and Doyle rank toward the top of that list.
West High junior Dillon Doyle
Both rank in the top four in tackles on an improved West High defense entering Friday’s Class 4A quarterfinal contest with Prairie at John Wall Field.
The duo has combined for 85.5 tackles, including 10 for loss on a West High defense suddenly among the stingiest in Class 4A.
“Those two are certainly two of the guys that we have relied on for performance,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig said. “They are tough kids, they take care of their bodies they compete in other sports, they are coachable and they are very critical to our defense but they are a lot like everybody else on the defense, guys that just do their jobs.”
Both first-year starters, Mabry and Doyle have flourished in their first seasons of varsity football.
A 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior, Doyle ranks fourth on the team with 35.5 tackles and has seven tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks.
“I think I’ve progressed a lot this year just like everybody else on the team,” Doyle said. “We have progressed as a team and I’m proud of how we’ve progressed we just have to show that on Friday night.”
Mabry has been perhaps the biggest surprise for the Trojans this season.
A starter on the West High freshman team a year ago, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Mabry ranks second on the team with 50 tackles this season as a sophomore.
Mabry trails on senior stalwart linebacker Max Brown in tackles and has 24 solo stops and three tackles for loss among his 50 tackles.
“It’s been a step up for sure, there is a lot more expected of you but the coaches and my teammates have done a great job of getting me ready and keeping my confidence up,” Mabry said of the transition to varsity. “I’d say most of it is just confidence. Kind of getting my feet in the water has been big just helping me.”
With the help of Mabry and Doyle a youthful West High defense has done an about face this season.
A year after allowing better than 380 yards and 29 points per game the Trojans enter Friday’s quarterfinal allowing 16.5 points and just 263 total yards per game.
“They are good tough kids, and they’ve definitely helped us solidify that spot,” Hartwig said of Mabry and Doyle. “They are like a lot of the guys that we have on defense. Our defense is pretty young, we’ve got leaders and seniors that I wouldn’t trade for anybody but we play a lot of underclassmen.”
The biggest improvements for the Trojans defense have come against the run.
A year ago West High allowed opponents to gain 5.6 yards per carry on their way to 251 rushing yards per game.
This season West High has cut its rush yards allowed by more 100 per game, allowing 151 yards per game on the ground on 4.2 yards per carry.
Everyone, including safeties has been a part of the resurgence against the run.
“I think everybody on our defense plays a big role in stopping the run game and that includes our safeties,” Doyle said. “We play up like linebackers and I think that plays a big role in our run defense.”
Never was the improvement more evident than in last week’s opening round win over fifth-ranked Bettendorf as West High held the Bulldogs to 162 rushing yards.
Mabry made a team-high eight tackles in the win while Doyle added 4.5 to go with a key pass break-up late in the game.
“I think that game gave us some confidence for sure,” Doyle said. “That showed we can beat some of the best teams in the state.”
West High sophomore Cole Mabry
Friday brings the toughest test yet for the West High defense.
Prairie piled up 439 yards, 349 of which came on the ground in a 36-20 win over West High in week five.
The two young safeties struggled at times against the Hawks’ wing T offense in the first meeting.
Hartwig expects a bounce back performance on Friday.
“I’m critical of our guys because I know what they can be but I’ll flat out say they did not have their best games, that was probably one of the lower points of the season for those two,” Hartwig said. “Credit to them they learned from that game and they have made strides since and we will find out Friday how far they have come because if they are not on it’s going to be a long night.”