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Sterling Heights

September 11, 2012

‘Stallion’ has multiple meanings for Sterling High’s defense

By Jason Carmel Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Sterling Heights High senior Jose Ramirez (20) makes a tackle during a recent practice. Ramirez plays the “Stallion” position for Sterling Heights, a hybrid linebacker/safety position that lines up in various spots on defense.

When Brent Widdows took over the Sterling Heights High football program four years ago, he added a unique wrinkle to the standard 4-3 and 3-4 defenses the team runs when he installed the 4-4.

Sterling Heights (0-2, 0-1 Macomb Area Conference Gold Division at press time) primarily runs the defensive set with four defensive linemen and three linebackers. Senior Jose Ramirez serves as the fourth linebacker, coming up from his safety spot to a position in the box with the front seven.

Ramirez is responsible for covering various areas of the field in the “Stallion” role: a hybrid linebacker/safety position.

“I know I’m not that big, so I have to use my speed to make the plays because of where my assignments are most of the time,” said Ramirez, who was listed at outside linebacker last season, but didn’t get a lot of playing time.

Using this scheme, Widdows said, gives the team the flexibility to switch to either a 4-3 or 3-4, possibly leading to confusion for opposing offenses, which he hopes leads to defensive stops and turnovers. Since 2010, the defense has seen an improvement of more than 15 points allowed per game.

The primary responsibility of the “Stallion” is outside containment: stopping runs to the outside edge, according to Widdows.

In passing situations, the “Stallion” is asked to stop any plays into the flat or any passes to running backs, Widdows said, adding Ramirez’s athleticism and speed makes up for his lack of size. Whoever is playing the position is also tasked with covering on blitzes and understanding multiple coverage patterns.

“(Ramirez) has played outside linebacker and free safety in the past, so he understands what it takes to play both of those spots, and he listens well, so the transition was pretty easy,” Widdows said. “Jose’s a pretty hard-working dedicated kid.”

Senior linebacker Michael Adour, the captain of the Sterling Heights defense, believes there are advantages in playing a 4-4 set versus a traditional 4-3 scheme. He said having what amounts to an additional linebacker in the box gives the defense a better chance at stopping the run.

Ramirez being up with the front seven so much leaves senior safety Alec Johnson alone in the defensive backfield at times.

“Everything has to go right with the set, because if it doesn’t, (the opposition) can bust a big play up the middle of our defense,” Johnson said.

Widdows said he doesn’t worry about Johnson being on his own in the defensive backfield because of his football IQ and athleticism. The Sterling Heights High coach added he had penciled Johnson in for the “Stallion” spot, but opted to go with Ramirez.

“(Johnson) played outside linebacker last year, and teams would run plays away from the side he was on,” Widdows said. “He’s got the skill and athleticism to make plays in the secondary, so that’s why we put him there.”

“Just from watching on the sidelines, (our defense) is pretty hard to read,” Sterling Heights senior quarterback Jacob Heins said. “Hopefully, that translates into some stops and leads to more wins.”

Sterling Heights next game is a road tilt at Mount Clemens, slated for 7 p.m. Sept. 14.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Jason Carmel Davis at jdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1107. Twitter Follow Jason on Twitter.