by STEVEN FOWLER
Everything is coming together for the (4-1) Pima Community College football team in what appears to be a Cinderella story.
A year ago, no one expected a team that ranked near the bottom of every category to be doing this well. In 2014, the Aztec’s defense finished far from satisfying. Following the season, the coaches regrouped and went back to the drawing board prior to recruiting.
“Last year we knew we had to get better in every position,” Defensive Coordinator/Linebacker Coach Pat Ryder said.
“This year the recruiting has been phenomenal. We’ve got phenomenal players, especially out of Hawaii. You look at the size differential and speed. Recruiting has improved immensely,” Defensive Back Coach Dan Wickland added.
In an incredible season thus far, the Aztecs’ defense has been superb. With the addition of many newcomers behind the defensive line, the team welcomed back the committee of redshirt freshman and veteran sophomores.
Returning Sophomores Wesley Payne and Isaiah Birkel along with Thomas Warren and redshirt-freshman Paul Davis have propelled the Aztecs’ defense.
Payne, a top recruit from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Arizona, has dominated this season by leading the Aztecs with 50 tackles and averaging 12.5 tackles per game.
“Isaiah Birkel, our linebacker, really does a great job with communication, and he knows it. He’s kind of like a coach on the field,” Ryder said. “When guys aren’t lined up right, he does a great job at getting them where they’re supposed to be. Overall, we have a lot of great players on defense.”
Warren, on the other hand, ranks near Payne with 40 total tackles, good enough to put him at second on the team in total sacks.
Through four games, the Aztecs have scored 231 points. Their opponents have scored 99 points, a difference of 132.
With an attack play during each snap, the coaches have not found much of a need to blitz. This is probably the least amount that we have blitzed this year according to Ryder.
When Pima’s defense blitzes, their goal is to rush after the opposing quarterback and disrupt the attempted play.
“I think by far you have to look at our front, our front three and front four depending on what defense we’re in. It all starts with those guys up front,” Ryder said. “In the secondary, we have a number of guys who are really good back there.”
Ryder is confident in his new players
“We have very few starters back from last year’s defense. In our front, we are totally new,” he said. “We have one linebacker who didn’t start for you last year but is starting for us this year. In secondary, we basically have all four new players. It’s a totally different team than it was last year.”
Ryder, his defensive coaches and players know that in order to be successful, they need to get to the opposing offense early in every game.
The Aztecs have an away game on Saturday where they will play Mesa Community College at 7 p.m.
In the words of Vince Lombardi, “there’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.”