When Eli Denton first entered the Walker Valley High School football program a culture change was just beginning.
Three years later, Denton's dominant presence on the defensive side of the ball has helped the Mustangs become a ranked force in Class 5A.
The 6-foot, 195-pound middle linebacker and his defensive teammates shut down a dangerous Carter High attack in Friday's dominant 42-14 road win for sixth-ranked Walker Valley. Denton delivered punishing hits throughout on his way to piling up an astounding 19 solo tackles, six assists, four tackles for loss and a sack.
That effort has earned Denton the Times Free Press Player of the Week honor.
On the first play from scrimmage he sent a helpless receiver flying as he lowered his pads to deliver a big strike across the middle, setting the tone for the night.
"I love playing in this defense because we always fly to the ball," Denton said. "Coach (Taylor) Harvey and Coach (Brandon) Ashby have really molded our defense into a physical and violent defense. Being in year three of the defensive system of this staff, I am really comfortable and able to go out there and make plays with everyone around me. Tucker Ownby also had a big game Friday and fired me up too."
Just five years removed from allowing over 50 points per game, the Mustangs have been extremely sharp on that side of the ball over the past two seasons. Over their past 16 games they have held 10 opponents to two scores or less. The results have followed as Drew Akins' program has a 12-4 record in that span.
Coach Harvey was stunned when assessing Denton's big game which accumulated 56 positive points via his playchart. For every tackle, negative play, pass break-up a point is rewarded while criticial errors made by a defender earn a negative point. Denton's 56 points was the most a defender has had in Harvey's scoring system by nearly 15-plus points.
"Eli was so much fun to watch. He made literally every play Friday night," Harvey said. "He took away their running game and when they threw over the middle or screens, he was the first dude out there making a violent hit. Eli's mentality is sharp as nails. He is never going to get outworked. Even in practice he is the first one flying to the ball. He works his tail off and does all the things behind the scenes that really have paid off for him. He is really a major part of what makes us click."
Denton was an all-state inside linebacker as just a sophomore last season in which he totaled 88 tackles, including 13 behind the line of scrimmage. He has 51 tackles (six for loss) through a promising 3-1 start for the Mustangs this fall.
Walker Valley quarterback Ryan Lay also was nearly perfect in the rout of Carter as he threw for 316 yards, rushed for 76 more and had six touchdowns. Lay also completed at least two passes to seven different receivers.
After a program-record nine wins last season, the Mustangs look to not miss a beat this season even with nine new starters on yet another stingy defense.
"This team plays disciplined and works really hard," Denton said. "We are fired up in practice and really love being a part of this turnaround. We are showing people we are here and aren't going to leave."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.