In James McCartney’s bio on the Wild’s website, his 16 sacks over his first three years in Wichita are touted — he’s called a "mainstay on the defensive line."
This season, McCartney is making his previous sack total look puny and the description of him as a mainstay look insufficient. McCartney, along with fellow lineman Matt Moss, has been the most important defender in Wichita’s recently discovered pass rush.
McCartney has 12.5 sacks in the Wild’s first seven games. With seven to go, he’s likely to breeze past the sack numbers it had taken him three seasons to accumulate.
The former NAIA All-American and two-time KCAC Defensive Player of the Year from Bethel credits improved conditioning for his breakout season.
"Coming into the season, I’ve battled weight a little bit, said the 6-foot-2, 320-pound McCartney. "I’ve kept my weight pretty stable this year, and I trained really good in the offseason, especially coming off an ankle injury two years ago.
"Last year was kind of regaining the strength and the motion in the (ankle), and this year I’ve trained enough and it’s feeling good and I’m keeping my weight down."
McCartney missed six games last season, which seemed like it could be a throwaway for him and the Wild. Wichita started 0-4, but rebounded to make the conference championship game behind a renewed emphasis on its defensive line and pressuring the quarterback.
Wichita’s run to the postseason coincided with an altered philosophy that allowed the Wild to lead the league in sacks. That mostly benefited Moss, who had a league-best 15, but McCartney had four with designs on being more of a focal point this year.
McCartney has been a key cog in a system that is ahead of the rest of the league in getting after quarterbacks. McCartney and Moss have combined for 21 1/2 sacks, more than the next six best in that category, and Anthony Smith is also in the top 10. Wichita rotates linemen in a way that keeps opponents guessing.
"Changing up what you do throughout the season is going to mess with other people because they scout you all the time," McCartney said. "If you’re always bull-rushing or always doing this, they’re going to figure out what to do to block us. The coaches say, if this isn’t working we’ll switch it on game time, and we’ll do this or we’ll put you at different positions."
Versatility has certainly helped McCartney, but so has his own time and persistence and that of his coaches. Head coach Morris Lolar and defensive line coach Paul Savage didn’t decide to become a sack-oriented defense and then turn the players loose to figure it out.
The coaches practiced technique with linemen — something McCartney said few other coaches do — and built the scheme around the personnel. That turned the risk in playing a style of defense not often practiced in indoor football into a reliability.
"The risk is, when you get more pressure, offenses try to get defensive lines out of the game by throwing quick passes," McCartney said. "When they do that, we just start using our hands and getting our hands up to bat balls down.
"They have nothing to do but rush the ball, and when you stop the rush they have no choice but to pass. Then they’re back in that pickle, it’s like, ’Well now we’ll get sacked again so what do we do?"