Magic football: Skills and smarts help form a shutdown defense
The defense on the 2012 Magic football team is special; there is little doubt about that.
Coach Jason Telecky began the year with the highest goal he’s ever set for a defense, to allow 16 points per game. They smashed that.
After allowing 10 points in the regular season finale against St. Michael-Albertville, the Magic defense is currently allowing a meager 8.75 points per game.
While defensive coordinator Erik Hanson entered the year without expectations (as per usual), the more he has worked with this defense and learned about it, the less he has become surprised by its dominance.
“I’ve had talent and then I’ve had kids that knew the game,” said Hanson. “But I’ve rarely had both. I had one in Grand Forks, and this is probably the second [defense like that].”
Individually, it’s a well-put together defense. They have pass rushers and run stoppers on the defensive line. They have lanky linebackers to get pass drops and athletic linebackers to string out plays. They have a shutdown corner to mix with a couple of hard hitters in the secondary. And they have a beloved coordinator who is believed in both as a communicator and a game planner.
But as a whole, they’re even more impressive. And according to them, there are a handful of reasons for that.
First and foremost, they love doing what they do. Hayden Laimer, Birk Olson and AJ Potter all play both ways. And they all say defense is where they have the most fun.
Equally importantly, they like hitting.
“We’re so much more physical this year,” said Laimer. “We get intense out there.”
And along those same lines, they are confident. The defense believes that they lack any serious weaknesses.
“We’re a little small, we’re a little undersized in parts,” said Potter. “But we play physical so it doesn’t really matter what size we are.”
Each of those traits has been evident all year. Their love for the game doesn’t just appear on Fridays. Defensive day at practice is a bundle of energy unleashed over two hours, as the defensive starts flying around looking to get their hands on the ball and their shoulder pads on others.
“We try to keep up the intensity as much as possible so it just carries over to the game,” said Potter.
In games, the carryover is natural. As is their love for hitting. Whether it’s Olson de-cleating the Big Lake quarterback, safety Sam Johnson trying run through a running back, or the common sight of six or seven Magic defenders rallying around the ball, there is never any doubt that these guys bring the intensity necessary to be successful on defense.
“[They’re] gonna find the shortest route to the ball and get there in a bad mood,” said Hanson. “That’s their mentality.”
That mentality combined with their ability has allowed Hanson the opportunity to raise his expectations as their coordinator. In years past, the Magic defense would be doing everything they could to not give up touchdowns. This year’s team is more focused on fighting for field position.
In multiple games down the stretch, including at Rocori and home vs. STMA, the defense has given the Magic offense numerous opportunities with a short field. Against Rocori, when that wasn’t enough, Johnson and the defense took it into their own hands, returning an interception 87 yards for a touchdown and the win.
That ability to both control and change the game has made this a memorable year for Hanson, who has been defensive coordinator here for eight seasons.
“It’s a blast,” said Hanson. “These guys can go as far as they want. We could lose on Saturday because the competition is so tough. But if everything clicks, this is the first time for a really long time that these guys could make it to state.”
By helping lock up the two seed and a first round bye, the defense has already put the Magic in a position to succeed. And they certainly expect to continue to put themselves in a position to succeed this Saturday against STMA, and hopefully going forward.
“We feel like every touchdown we give up is a cheap one,” said Olson. “We want to shut everybody down.”
They’ll get their next chance this Saturday at 1 p.m. when the Magic play host to St. Michael-Albertville in the section semifinals. A preview of that game will be available Friday morning.