It is not a revelation to point out how good Longview’s defensive unit has been in 2022, but its experienced lineup still deserves a lot of credit for the overall team success.
The Longview football program has been working toward this season for a couple of years, and has leaned on a crucial development process that has prepared players to be the necessary leaders for the current team’s run to Friday’s 7 p.m. Class 5A Division I Region II final against Mansfield Timberview at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
The biggest playmakers on the defensive side are well-known at this point, and have contributed in multiple ways to help Longview push past its 2020 and 2021 regional semifinal results, and advance to the fourth round of the University Interscholastic League postseason for the first time since 2018.
The top Lobo players at each position continue to lean on their valuable playing experience from past seasons to successfully handle this year’s leadership responsibilities.
“The thing about experience is you understand the speed of the game, and the level of competition,” said Longview athletic director and head football coach John King. “You have a better understanding of the defensive structure, and how to adjust to different looks that you didn’t see on tape."
"The kids who are locked in and gained experience, you can’t throw them a curveball," he continued. "That’s the biggest thing. They understand tweaks that you may want to use during the course of the game to adjust to what the opponent’s trying to do.”
Ta’Darion Boone has continued to be one of the team’s standouts in 2022 because he already produced 90 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, nine sacks, nine pass break-ups, four interceptions, three defensive touchdowns, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one blocked punt.
The secondary has also been boosted by Chase Smith’s 84 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four pass break-ups, two sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble, Daedrion Garrett’s 67 tackles, seven pass break-ups, one interception, and one fumble recovery, Willie Nelson’s 57 tackles, five interceptions, four pass break-ups, one defensive touchdown, and one tackle for loss, and Ja’Keyvon Curry’s 48 tackles, five pass break-ups, three interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one tackle for loss.
The team’s defensive linemen group has been headlined by Omarion Watkins because he has already provided 66 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and five sacks.
The efforts of the men in the trenches have remained strong with Xaryus Sheppard’s 62 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 10 and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and one blocked punt, Billy Smith’s 59 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and one defensive touchdown, Jordan Wright’s 54 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles, Laquavean Jackson’s 30 tackles, six tackles for loss, and one and a half sacks and Jeremiah Rougely with 43 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception.
The linebacker corps also can’t be ignored because it has a force in Kaden Brooks, who has recorded 77 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery, and one pass break-up.
“The biggest thing I like is they’re unselfish,” King said of his team’s top defensive players this season. “No one guy is bigger than the team. Everybody’s executing their assignment, and that allows people to make plays.”
“Ja’Keyvon Curry was not a starter last year, but he worked to become one, and that allowed us to move Willie Nelson to safety,” he added. “Willie did it for the team, so we could get our best 11 [defensive players on the field]. Ta’Darion Boone moved from outside linebacker. They just want to play great team defense. That’s what it’s about.”
Longview has emphasized its defensive depth over the years by awarding more game time to contributing varsity backups and JV players. That allows the coaching staff to trust the next man up's ability to successfully step into the same role as a teammate, and maintain both a fresh and healthy defensive unit.
“It’s not just one guy every week,” said King. “People like Ta’Darion Boone have had outstanding careers. He’s made a ton of plays for us. But, it may be a guy like Jordan Wright, who was a JV defensive lineman for us last year. Him and Laquavean Jackson, neither played varsity football [in 2021], but they have played very well for us on Friday night [this year]. They’re getting a ton of snaps, and they fill their role.”
Those defensive leaders limited the first 13 opponents on Longview’s 2022 schedule to an average of 8.9 points per game. They will be expected to slow down a high-scoring Mansfield Timberview offense that’s averaging 54.3 points per game this season, so the Lobos can top another hurdle on Friday, and march to their first state semifinal in four years.
“Their offensive line, they average about 320 [pounds] across the front, which outweighs us 100 pounds a man,” King said of the biggest Mansfield Timberview challenge that his defense faces this week. “Their offensive line is solid. We’re going to have to get off the blocks and hold the point upfront, or they’ll run the ball down our throats. We haven’t seen anyone quite like this.”