October 14, 2009 8:34:00 AM
LOUISVILLE -- Even before the season kicked off, Louisville High School head football coach Brad Peterson said his team was looking for its identity, especially on defense.
Now, nine weeks into the season, the 6-2 Wildcats may finally be finding themselves.
"We knew we were gong to have a young defense," Peterson said. "We only had three true starters coming back and a lot of those guys back there are so young."
The Louisville defense has been torched for its share of big plays the first eight games as the young Wildcats have had to earn their stripes under fire.
"We have given up 70 points on big plays," said Louisville defensive coordinator Keith Braddock. "It has really tried my patience, but we have a lot of guys who are still figuring it out. They are doing everything we ask of them so we just keep coaching them up and give them time to learn."
Then came a rash of injuries that depleted what precious depth the Wildcats had on defense.
"We were having to play some guys in some different places, but now we have things kind of like we want them," said Braddock, who is in his fourth season as defensive coordinator. "We have had a couple sophomores step up who have allowed us to do some things to strengthen ourselves in the secondary."
Sophomore Anthony Davis, who returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown in Louisville''s 46-22 win against Kosciusko last Thursday night, has stepped up at defensive end, which has allowed sophomore Jonathan Coleman to slide back to linebacker.
The importance there is that 6-foot-5, 200-pound wide receiver/linebacker Markese Triplett can now move to cornerback.
"With Markese and Blake (Cunningham) and Zan (Carter) back there, we feel like we are pretty good," Braddock said. "Having those two guys (Coleman and Davis) really step up has made us a much better defensive team."
Despite giving up at least 17 points in every game and 42 in a 17-point loss in week three, at least two seniors never doubted that the young defense would come around.
"I knew we were going to be all right," said senior linebacker Jamie Sanders, who got most of his experience last year filling in when Dandy Dozen linebacker Dennis Thames was out with an injury during the middle of the season. "The younger players just had to step up. They were getting a little frustrated early, but we have got some talented sophomores who can be play makers on defense."
"Most of our problems came from a busted play here and there," said defensive lineman Jimmy Owens, who has been starting since his sophomore season. "They are just young. Sometimes you have to get on them when they mess up and other times you have to just pull them over to the side and explain to them what they are doing wrong."
Sanders, who plays inside linebacker, readily admits he''s not the same type player as Thames, who signed with Mississippi State.
"I am nowhere near as athletic as he was," said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Sanders. "We just have to all work together and help each other. We are getting better each week."
"We played a lot of good teams early and that really tested us and helped us," the 5-foot-10, 285-pound Owens said. "I thought that by the middle of the season we would start coming together and I think we are."
The Louisville defense gave up just 13.7 points per game on the way to winning the Class 3A state championship in 2007 and allowed just 14.7 points per game as the Wildcats defended that title in 2008. This year, the Wildcats are giving up 23.8 per game.
But Braddock says those numbers are a little inflated.
"I guess everybody can say the same thing, but if you look at the film, we are just so close to being where we need to be," he said. "The thing that hurt us early was the big plays in third and long and fourth and long when we just miss a tackle or are in the wrong place. I think that''s an area we have definitely improved on."
Owens has his sites set on earning his third state championship ring, while Sanders says he would like nothing more than having his season end on the turf of Mississippi Veteran''s Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
"I didn''t get to play as much in the championship game last year," Sanders said. "I want to get back on that big stage in Jackson."
The Wildcats are 2-0 in Class 4A, Region 4 and have a big date with defending Class 4A state champion Noxubee County in Macon on Oct. 23.
"We are looking forward to that game for sure," Owens said. "But it doesn''t end there. No matter who wins that game we will probably wind up playing again (in the playoffs)."
But before the Wildcats and Tigers square off, the Wildcats will be looking to gain more defensive experience when they host Caledonia on Friday night.
"We are getting better," Peterson said. "We knew we were going to have to learn as we went along."
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