East Hamilton's "Blackshirts"
DeAndre Black, John Dalton, Martez Durrah, Alonzo Francois, Austin Gatewood, Quinn Griffith, Ben Hall, Dallas Hammond, Tre Herndon, Chas Holsey, Cody Knox, Matt Lundy, Ryne McCoy, Hunter Parker, Griffin Reagan, Francisco Rodriguez, Cordell Sands, Jordan Wallace, Harrison Warren.
East Hamilton players are readily identified at practice — the offense in white jerseys, the defense in green and The defense in black.
Borrowing an idea from Nebraska, Hurricanes coaches purchased black shirts in 2009 but didn't give them out; same in 2010 and the first two games of 2011.
"We got popped pretty good the first two games, but then we won at home and it started there," defensive coordinator Steve Garland said.
Shortly thereafter the black jerseys appeared, and since that initial showing the Hurricanes have posted a 16-4 record, including 10-1 this season.
"Coach [Ted] Gatewood wanted each player to earn his jersey, and I wanted them to collectively earn them," Garland said.
The 19 players who wear the black shirts have earned them, allowing just 7.2 points per game this season, the second best defensive total in the state. Last week's playoff-opening shutout of Marshall County was their third of the season.
Their accomplishments come from Gatewood's edict: Dictate, don't wait and react; be fast, be physical.
Gatewood, who takes teamwork as the initial premise for success, is proudest of the fact that the team plays up-tempo and does so with physical play that is all-inclusive from defensive lineman Francisco Rodriguez to safety Hunter Parker.
"The kids enjoy this scheme," the coach said. "Each has an opportunity for certain freedoms. They're almost cultish at times, and we're at the stage right now where 90-95 percent of them are having fun Monday through Thursday leading up to Friday. They realize this is a moment in life not everybody gets to be a part of."
Rodriguez, a senior who is among the first pointed out as opposing coaches begin breaking down East Hamilton video, refers to the defense as controlled chaos.
"All of us are motivated to be known as the best defense around," he said, "and it's nice to know that the guy beside you or behind you is going to do his job."
Most of the blackshirts have been together since the school opened. They took their lumps but they grew.
"We started from not having a senior class and not having the size or the strength, to growing and having the size and the strength," middle linebacker Harrison Warren offered. "We're comfortable with each other. We're tight. You try as hard as you can every play, but it you don't make the play you know somebody around you will."
The defense is a reflection of the coaching staff's different philosophies, a hybrid 3-4 that will at times resemble a 5-2, a 4-3, a 4-4 or even a 3-3-5.
"We have blended things each coach had done at other places and have come up with a common vernacular," Garland said. "It's unique. It's not somebody else's playbook."
It belongs to them -- Garland as coordinator and coach of the middle linebackers, Scott Moore as outside 'backers coach, Brian Kranz as defensive line coach and Gerald Jones overseeing the secondary -- and they have passed it on to their players.
"It's a team-concept defense, the kids' defense," Gatewood said. "They have taken what's been taught and assumed ownership of the defense by the way they play."
That covers the guys up front, cerebral middle linebacking hammers, play-anywhere outside 'backers who float ghostlike from one area of responsibility to another and defensive backs who are as comfortable in somebody's face with man-to-man as they are dropping back.
"You try to have fun and you don't hold anything back," said cornerback Cody Knox, who admitted he'd rather make a good hard hit as intercept a pass. "As a defense, we're getting that swagger."
The swagger results from the blend of scheme, athletes and attitude. As old-school Garland was quick to point out, "There's an old football expression: It's more about the Jimmys and Joes than the X's and O's."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...