CORSAIR FIELD — Offense may be pretty to watch, but it doesn’t necessarily win football games.
The Santa Monica High School Vikings have been explosive on offense at times this season, but it’s the defense that is proving to be the difference each week.
The effort on the defensive side of the ball has helped build a 6-1 overall record and 2-0 mark in Ocean League play for the No. 8 ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division. The defense has given up just 77 points all season and looks to continue that trend Friday during homecoming against Morningside at Santa Monica College.
The best perspective on just how dominant the defense has been, ironically, comes from one of their own.
Starting senior quarterback Christian Salem, who has led the Vikings to 215 points this season, sees more of his defense than anybody else. Practice after practice, the first-year starter being recruited by Occidental College gets a behind-the-scenes look at what his teammates can do.
“It’s great,” Salem says of facing those guys every week on the practice field. “It helps me prepare, it’s like playing against a college defense.”
Salem has grown accustomed to just how fast and physical the likes of linebackers Chris Collins and London Lewis are, even during practice. Coupled with defensive backs Dylan Muscat, Mathew Rusk-Kosa and Sebastian LaRue, Salem said that this particular group of guys has figured out how to read routes. It isn’t rare for them to cause him fits.
“Our guys are taught how to read receivers,” he said. “A lot of other defenses don’t teach that.”
It doesn’t hurt that Clark is a former defensive back himself at Samohi, something that he feels rubs off on his players.
Clark fancies himself a defensive coach first, the side of the ball he’s most comfortable with. That perspective has helped as the Vikings look to build themselves into possible league and division title contenders.
“They play hard, they understand what it takes to win,” Clark said. “They are concerned about not letting people into the end zone. They play with so much passion.”
The defense’s propensity for being stingy comes with a price. Many of the starters play both ways. Guys like defensive back/running back Kori Garcia, Collins and Salem’s favorite target, wide receiver LaRue, line up for nearly every play on both sides of the ball.
Clark tries his best to keep his guys fresh by using regular substitutions, but he considers it a challenge that takes all of his attention to pull off. Fortunately for him, his two-way players have been willing to tackle the task.
“These guys never leave the field,” he said. “They’ve learned to play for one another.”
That commitment will be challenged this week against Morningside as starting running back and cornerback Garcia will be sideline by a concussion suffered last week against rival Beverly Hills. The senior being recruited by a number of Ivy League schools will certainly sit this week, opening the door for somebody else to rotate in and contribute on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Will Taylor will be tasked with many of the jobs Garcia has made his own. On offense, Taylor will be looked on to backup the emerging Lewis at running back and possibly start alongside cornerback Dylan Muscat on defense.
Clark is confident that the sophomore is up to the task.
“I’m excited to give the youngster a chance to carry the ball,” Clark said of Taylor. “He’s hungry to get an opportunity.”
Samohi’s ability to move the ball on the ground may come in handy against an offense that Clark is worried about.
After studying film, Clark is impressed by Morningside quarterback Gregory Adams, who will be making his third start against Samohi. The junior was crafty enough during the first two meetings, and Clark knows that maturity will only make him even more dangerous.
“He has a nice arm and he’s left-handed,” he said of Adams. “He makes them a dangerous open-field team.”