COOS BAY — When Marshfield needed a defensive coordinator before this season, head coach John Lemmons knew exactly where to go.
In came Mike Seedborg, a former defensive back at Southern Oregon University and longtime defensive backs coach at Marshfield. All he’s done is guide the Pirates to a stellar defensive season, allowing about 12 points per game with two shutouts and dominant performances littered through the 7-1 regular season. The Pirates host Mazama in the Class 4A quarterfinals on Friday night.
“I think the best thing — my plan was to stay out of the way and let them play,” Seedborg said. “They’re so athletic. We just guide them a little bit. John (Lemmons) and I have been planning what we wanted to do for quite a while now. Him and I go back from Southern Oregon. I knew him over there, so I’ve known the guy for a long time. I kinda came in to support him. And I’ve known all these kids for a long time. It’s been an easy transition.”
An easy transition for several reasons, those above included.
From Seedborg’s time at Marshfield under its previous coaching staff, a commonly-used phrase floated around the locker room.
“When Coach Line was here, he’d say, ‘The most important part of the wolfpack’ — the team — ‘is the pups, the wolf pups.’”
That mentality, that ability to bring players along from hot practice days in August, to cold practices days in November makes a program sustainable, how expectations — from coaches and players alike — drive the young to be better.
It’s happened this season. Though Marshfield’s defense is littered with older, experienced players, several newcomers have worked into spots. Noah Niblett has an interception. Tyler Thornton does as well.
“When you've got a sophomore out there playing with a bunch of seniors, Noah, it kinda feeds off to them,” Seedborg said. “I think the best part about that, the freshmen and stuff that are playing with us now, they have something to see. And that’s huge.”
Seedborg and Lemmons share a defensive mentality: simple equals fast. Defense is a reactionary endeavor. You see something, you diagnose its meaning and you run as fast as you can to wherever the rules tell you to run.
An overly complicated defense is usually a slow defense, as each player has to do a lot of thinking about which rules he’s following at any particular time.
Lemmons remembers his Marine father telling him about officers’ words on the beaches and in the jungles of Vietnam.
“I’ve heard stories when they’re storming the beaches at Da Nang in Vietnam the old sergeants were saying the same thing,” Lemmons said. “’Keep it simple, Stupid, or you’re gonna die today,’ you know. I just kind of bought into that philosophy for a long time now.”
A similar idea applies to defense. Don’t think. React.
“When you’re not thinking, you’re playing,” cornerback Chase Howerton said. “You can react a lot quicker, and stuff. (Seedborg)’s really hammered that down on us, just play football, just be simple and efficient with everything.”
In the Class 4A ranks, the spectrum of offensive styles makes for a difficult eight-plus series of games. Just in its last three contests, counting this week’s quarterfinal against Mazama, Marshfield has had to prepare for three different systems: the spread ‘em out passing attack of Marist, the bunch ‘em up misdirection running game of North Marion, and the fill-up-the-backfield-and-go-three-yards-at-a-time look of Mazama.
From that perspective, simplicity is key. Overhauling a defensive system entirely because of one team is ambitious and can overwhelm even the brightest players.
But Marshfield’s speed in reacting isn’t its only strength.
It’s a prepared group, one that regularly jumps on the football video website HUDL.com to watch practice film and game film of upcoming opponents.
By taping practice, Marshfield can improve through the week by showing players mistakes they made against certain plays or in certain coverages and fixing them a day later. It really shows in Marshfield’s preparedness once the games start.
“Playing smart football, that’s a huge part of it,” Seedborg said. “Being smart, going everything in practice, repetitions, not changing things. Coach Lemmons is big on being simple so we can play fast.”
But that’s just one step of being prepared. Defenses also have to be prepared to adjust, to change things that aren’t working in favor of things that are.
Sometimes it can be difficult for teams to move away from their original plan or their base defenses. After all, the old adage of, “Do what got you here” is largely true.
But sometimes Marshfield has had to make changes, some minor, some not.
In its final regular-season game, Marshfield made some changes in its secondary to combat the accurate passing attack of Marist Catholic, holding the Spartans to limited numbers after its first two drives picked apart the Pirates’ secondary.
A more obvious adjustment was last week against North Marion, when middle linebacker Josiah Niblett moved onto the defensive line at nose guard and held his own.
It was a combination of the culture, bringing guys up with expectations, the preparedness, watching film and studying opponents, and keeping things simple (stupid), that allowed the junior linebacker to succeed in that specific situation, as well as the entire unit to succeed against varying offenses.
“It starts at practice the first day and watching film on it,” senior defensive end Cory Stover said. “We got a good idea if they change. Like last game, having that guy go in motion we knew what’s coming at us. It’s nice to know when you got guys, coaches that got your back and know what’s going at you.”
Marshfield’s defense has been versatile now for its last two playoff seasons. Some of that has to do with the raw athleticism at each position. Some of it has to do with good football minds that can move around and handle a lot.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Pirates are prepared and don’t try to do more than what they’re asked. In other words, they do their jobs.
“When you’re doing your job, you kinda find out what other people’s jobs are, especially when you’re paying attention on film,” Howerton said. “If you’re keying in on what you’re doing, then after that you realize what other people are doing and just the layout of everything.”