Bob Lutz

Collegiate’s defense is a key in a world ruled by offense

There’s no stopping many high school football offenses these days. The best you can hope for is to slow them down.

The 12 Wichita and area teams left in the Kansas high school playoffs — Heights, Derby, Hutchinson, Goddard, Valley Center, Buhler, McPherson, Maize South, Mulvane, Garden Plain, Hesston and Collegiate — average 39.2 points and 389.3 yards of total offense.

“It’s so much tougher to defend now,” said Collegiate defensive coordinator Troy Black, who was at the school during the 1990s, left and returned 14 years ago. “In the ’90s, everybody ran the same stuff, a handful of stuff. A lot of I-formation. Now we have to defend a bazillion sets.”

Offenses are ahead of the game. Defenses are, well, on the defensive.

Collegiate, though, has found a special defensive weapon that is making a difference. He’s 5-foot-8, 175-pound Evan Voegeli, who wasn’t even starting when the season started but has found his place as the Spartans’ noseguard.

His job is simple: Disrupt before an offense can get in sync. Get to the play before it forms.

“He’s literally been almost unblockable for us,” said Collegiate coach Mike Gehrer, whose Spartans (7-3) play at Holcomb (10-1) on Friday night in the Classs 4A-II quarterfinals. “He’s so low to the ground and we slant all the time and they just can’t block him. We’ve played a lot of good offensive teams and held them below their averages. We’ve been up and down offensively, but the guys on defense have been consistent for us all year long except for one game against Mulvane.”

Collegiate lost that one 35-7. But the Spartans have won four straight, holding opponents to an average of 12.7 points in those wins.

Voegeli, who also plays on the offensive line, started the season as a reserve linebacker. But then Gehrer and Black got to thinking. In this age of high-powered, spread, option offenses, what could they do defensively to change things up?

“We actually started talking about it last year,” Gehrer said. “We played Holton in the playoffs in 2012 and they had a guy who looks like and played just like Evan and we couldn’t block him. The subject came up again at the beginning of this season — ‘Hey, remember that guy from Holton we couldn’t block?’ — and we realized that we had that guy. Evan just made (all-league), he’s really strong and he’s the second- or third-fastest guy on our team.”

Voegeli has mixed with Collegiate’s veteran defense — seniors Cooper Root, Connor Oehmke, John Egan and Tyler Anderson also are mainstays — and given the Spartans a fighting chance with an offense that can be lethal, but not always. The Spartans’ 309.9 yards are the least among the 12 area teams remaining in the playoffs.

“I was a little apprehensive about moving to the D-line,” Voegeli said. “We had a kid last year, Jacob Pfieffer, who was a smaller guy and they had him at noseguard some and he was able to do some impressive things. So I knew if I could be quick, I could do some of the same things.”

Black, a former offensive lineman, knows first-hand how much those guys hate trying to block quick players, especially on the interior. Voegeli is finding out, too.

“I see a lot of them arguing about how to block me,” Voegeli said. “I’m able to split guys sometimes and I’ll see them pointing at each other, saying ‘You were supposed to have him’ to each other. And there are other times when those linemen will put their heads down and try to go harder and that makes it easier for me to get through.”

Black said he spends more time than ever going over scouting reports and watching film of opposing teams. Holcomb is another one of those highly-charged offenses, averaging 413 yards and 38.4 points. The Longhorns can pass (182-yard average) and run (230 yards) well.

“We spend way more time preparing than we used to,” Black said. “Everybody does things differently on offense and it’s a lot harder to defend. Holcomb is very multiple with offense. They have a huge running back and they love the big play, love throwing the ball downfield.”

Collegiate will try to be ready. It’s like this every week. Defenses just try to be ready.

“Tackling isn’t as good as it used to be and you’ve got the 7-on-7 thing in the summer,” Gehrer said. “We all throw the ball a lot more and a lot more effectively than teams have in a long time.

“All these teams running zone and flex bone, it’s made it tough on defenses. You’ve got three or four days every week to get your kids sound and that’s a tough goal.”

Collegiate, though, tries not to get into shootouts. The Spartans do their best to defend, even in a defenseless age.