Tyler Lee knew its defense would be a strength heading into the 2019 season.
Even after allowing 47.2 points per game a season ago, the Red Raiders were confident that with a year of experience and maturity that there would be a visible difference in their production.
That progress was evident in the Red Raiders’ 34-7 rout of rival John Tyler this past Saturday on Earl Campbell Field at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Lee’s defense was living in the John Tyler backfield with 13 sacks and seven tackles for loss.
After allowing 708 yards and 65 points to the Lions a year ago, the Red Raiders held John Tyler to 159 yards and just seven points this time around.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Lee head coach Kurt Traylor said. “During the spring, they totally killed us. Coach (JJ) Berry has come in and done a great job. They play hard for him, because he’s invested in them. I always talk about how kids are like banks, the more you invest, the more you can withdraw. He’s done a good job investing in those kids, and he has them believing in who he is and his philosophy.
“I think it all comes down to the work we put in during the summer and in the offseason,” junior linebacker Jack Janis said. “I thought our coaches put together a great strategy to put us in the right places to make a lot of plays.”
Janis was one of those players making plays against John Tyler. After playing sparingly as a sophomore, Janis has taken on a bigger role this season and had five tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks against John Tyler.
“Jack was a 165-pound sophomore,” Traylor said. “He didn’t need to be out there truthfully, but it’s where we were. We had to get kids out there on the field. We knew he was a good player and a good athlete, but he was one of our kids that should have been playing JV football at the time. He put on 20-25 pounds of mass, and he is stronger and looks good out there. He plays hard, plays smart and plays with perfect effort. Him, Josh Olivares, Colby Davis and Carson Gallagher gives us a great group of linebackers.”
And up front, Jamal Ligon, Seth Leon and Garfield Lawrence put pressure on the John Tyler front. Ligon had four sacks, and Leon and Lawrence each recorded a sack.
“It’s hard to block those dudes,” Traylor said.
Berry, who is in his first season as defensive coordinator for the Red Raiders, likes the performance of his unit so far but also knows there is still work to be done.
“It all goes back to preparation,” Berry said. “We got here in the spring and tried to set a culture of playing fast and physical. It’s not complicated in what we do up front. The kids have bought in, and the coaches have bought in. It’s paying off right now.
“We’ve got to tackle better. There’s been a lot of busts, but we’ve played so hard and fast that we’ve covered it up. If we can clean up our gap responsibilities and tackle a little better, we can get that shutout.”
“I think we’re more of a team defense,” Janis said. “I feel like each player is doing their own job and not everyone is trying to make every play. I think we’re a lot stronger and a lot faster for sure.”
Lee will look to add to its strong defensive start to the season when it hosts Nacogdoches at 7 p.m. Saturday at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.