WARNER ROBINS -- Northside defensive coordinator Kevin Smith heard some of the grumbles among his players.
The Northside defensive players have listened to praise being heaped on many of the teams in the state. They’ve heard about the top-ranked defenses of Tucker and Lovejoy, two of the four teams left in the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs. Even their cross-town rival Warner Robins has earned plenty of praise for its defensive play.
Perhaps it’s the product of their substantial success that the Eagles’ defense has flown a little under the radar.
“Some of the guys said people don’t ever talk about our defense,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Guys that’s all right. Don’t worry about stats.’ That’s not what it’s about. It’s about Northside going out there and shutting people down and winning. All of the rest takes care of itself.”
The Eagles’ defense will face a substantial test Friday when it takes on undefeated and top-ranked Tucker, which leads Class AAAA in scoring at 47.1 points per game.
“We play well as a team, and we love getting to go out there and prove ourselves every game,” senior defensive tackle Josh Chester said. “We expect big things out of our defense.”
For the 11th time in 14 years, the Northside defense has allowed fewer than 10 points per game. The Eagles (13-0) have allowed 9.5 points per game this year, with only six opponents scoring more than seven points. They rank only behind Lovejoy, Southwest DeKalb and East Paulding among Class AAAA’s 94 schools in scoring defense.
Those impressive numbers are even more eye-popping with a closer look.
The Northside starters rarely played in full games this season. Warner Robins was the only team to do real damage to the Eagles’ defense in the second half of games against the Eagles’ first-team unit. Most of the fourth-quarter points scored on Northside came against backups. Opponents scored 48 fourth-quarter points -- or 39 percent of the total points allowed by the defense.
The Eagles defense allowed only 40 points total -- or 3.1 points per game -- in the first half this season.
Smith points to the Eagles’ defensive continuity for the annual success.
Smith and Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler, a former Eagles’ defensive coordinator, have worked together for 16 years. Linebacker coach Ryan Crawford has been on the staff for seven years, and assistant coach Greg Street has been on the staff for six years.
“I’ve always been in charge of those up-front guys, and (Kinsler) has always been in charge of those secondary guys, and we’ve put the rest together,” Smith said. “I think us being together and teaching those guys year in and year out has helped our program be successful. They don’t have to learn and meet new coaches every year. We’ve had (Crawford and Street) here for a while now. That helps.”