LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- There is a rift within the LaFayette High School football team that's getting bigger by the week.
And the coaches love it.
When head coach Tab Gable made it clear in the offseason that improving the Ramblers' defense would be his main priority, his first act was to hire former Ridgeland assistant Keith Mariakis as his defensive coordinator. Together they decided to create an us-versus-them attitude for a defense that had no real identity a year ago.
"We looked at personnel and we put a lot of good athletes on that side," Gable said. "I just don't like the idea of trying to outscore folks. To me, good teams always play good defense. I hired Coach Mariakis and we're real close as to what we think about defense. The kids have bought into it."
And then some. In helping the Ramblers fashion a 2-1 start, including last Friday's first-ever win over Cartersville, defensive players have taken a hard stance against offenses -- including their own.
"Coach Mariakis tried to put in our heads that we don't like offensive players," admitted sophomore safety Sam Lemmons, who stepped in following a loss to Chattooga in game one with 19 tackles in two starts. "We didn't even sit with the offensive players during lunch. We just don't like offenses."
Along with a shift from a 3-4 alignment to an aggressive 4-4 scheme that features a lot of man-to-man coverage, Gable and Mariakis have limited the number of two-way players. Too often a year ago a tired defense was not able to hold leads or make big stops. There is also a renewed effort to stop the run, something that frustrated Cartersville a week ago.
Joining Lemmons as defensive difference makers so far are linemen Will Medford, a junior who has seven sacks, and freshman Austin Whitten and linebackers Trea Covington and Heath Giddy, who leads the team with 42 tackles.
"From day one the kids have done everything we've asked them to do," Mariakis said. "They've sold out every day. I've never coached a group of kids that want to be as good as they can be. We make mistakes, but we're correcting them every week. They're taking film home, studying and coming out ready to play every day.
"We don't ask them to do a whole lot. My theory has always been to make it as simple as possible on them so that they can just go out there and play football."
The aggressiveness has contributed to giving up some big plays, but those are mistakes the players believe will be fixed in time. For now, they're just enjoying seeing the fruits of their hard labor.
"There is still a lot to learn," Giddy said, "but if we play as hard as we did Friday night we'll be all right. That win proved to our seniors that the vision we had in November is coming true. There's no reason we can't keep it up and make the playoffs."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...