Carson High’s defense improved as the season went along last year, and coach Blair Roman was hoping for the same thing this season.
The Senators, who were 9-3 a year ago and reached the regional finals, return just five starters from last year’s defensive unit — safety Asa Carter, cornerback Caulin Bartley, middle linebacker Ikela Lewis, defensive end Ian Schulz and defensive tackle Sheldon Miller.
Gone are two of their biggest playmakers in Brady Rivera and Nolan Shine, who combined for 155 tackles last season. They made the Senators’ defense go. Also gone is Cameron Radtke, who contributed 31 tackles and four assists last year at defensive end. Radtke apparently has moved to Oregon.
“You don’t replace guys like that,” Roman said. “We’ll be looking at seniors to step up and have great seasons. We’re green on defense right now. We’re very young. We’ll be looking to get better and better as the season goes on. I think we have an opportunity to be a good defense by the end of the year.”
And, given the first five games are non-league, the defense has plenty of time to develop.
Roman has a couple of key guys to build with, namely Carter, the returning Sierra League Player of the Year, and Lewis, an all-region selection.
Lewis (102 tackles, 1 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 caused fumbles) started at middle linebacker the first half of the season, and then moved outside to make room for Shine when the latter moved to defense full time. Lewis is back in the middle again, and Roman is counting on him in a big way.
“He was at or near the top of the league in tackles when we moved him last year to the ‘Will’ linebacker from “Sam’,” Roman said. “I expect him to pick up where he left off last year. He is the No. 1 leader on the defensive side of the ball, and he played well for us last year.”
Carter was huge (70 tackles, 4 caused fumbles, 4 passes defensed and 8 interceptions) on the defensive side of the ball. He was brilliant against both the run and the pass, showing great instincts in run support and he’s a sure tackler.
“Those are two pretty good guys to build around,” Roman said. “We have a lot of pieces. It’s a matter of putting them all together.”
Lewis will be joined by Justin Tschetter (6-0, 205), who attended Carson as a freshman, and then transferred to Galena. He started at outside linebacker for the Grizzlies a year ago. Replacing Lewis on the outside is back-up QB Jace Keema (5-11, 200).
“Tschetter has never played inside,” Roman said. “He has a lot to learn. Jace is a football player; a good athlete. He looks fantastic out there.”
Jordan Aikins (up from JV) will vie for playing time in a reserve role along with Max DeMar (10 tackles). Roman is impressed with DeMar’s improvement from last season.
Joining Asa Carter in the secondary, is his younger brother, Abel (a sophomore), Bartley (49 tackles, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defense, 1 fumble recovery and one caused fumble) and junior Spencer Rogers, who joined the team in the playoffs last year as did the younger Carter.
“It will be the Carter & Carter Show at safety,” Roman said. “Asa has great size and instincts back there. Abel could play any of the spots back there.
“Caulin has great work ethic and a great attitude out there. He’s a real good coverage guy. He is going to have a great senior year. Spencer was one of our top JV players a year ago, and a real good wrestler. I expect good things from him.”
Roman said receiver Connor Pradere (6 tackles, 1 caused fumble) would be a back-up secondary player along with Brady O’ Keefe (14 tackles) and Alex Estrada (4 tackles).
The line is anchored by Schulz (24 tackles), a three-year varsity player, and Miller (14 tackles in 3 games), who started several games as a sophomore. Miller had off-season knee surgery, and Roman is unsure of when he’ll be cleared for full-scale workouts and hitting.
Joining Schulz, who’s one of the best all-around athletes at CHS (basketball and track) at end is Kevin Rusler, who was strictly an offensive player a year ago. Also in the mix at that position is Jacob Drahos, who had 120 tackles and a fumble recovery last year, Tyler Huling, who’s up from the JV squad, and Connor Chech (3 tackles). Roman has no worries about Rusler being able to handle starting both ways.
“I equate Kevin to Andy Cooper in that respect,” Roman said. “He could be a good defensive end. Jacob is a tall, lanky guy who has good potential and will help us there. We moved Tyler from linebacker at camp this year. He is a tough kid. Connor was a back-up last year.”
Joining Miller when he comes back is Corey Jasper (5-9, 220), Adam Domitrovich (6-3, 225), Josh Thompson (6-1, 210) and newcomer Isaiah Prater (6-2, 260), who moved into town from North Carolina. Certainly Prater will be able to take up some space in the middle of the line and prove to be a run stopper.
“It’s nice when guys like that (Prater) fall into your lap,” Roman said. “It hasn’t happened to us much around here.”
Despite the plethora of new starters, Lewis has high hopes for his defensive teammates.
“I think we have a chance to be even better than last year’s defense,” Lewis said. “At linebacker, we have Justin (Tschetter) and Jace. Both are good athletes.”
Defense is all about attitude, aggressiveness and desire, and Lewis will make sure the rest of his defensive teammates bring those qualities to the field each and every practice and game.
Expect the Senators to play with a lot of enthusiasm.