Central Getting Defensive

CB Tee Shepard

Fresno (Calif.) Central was just a one-win team a few years ago; now, they are arguably one of the top teams in the Golden State. While the Grizzlies entered 2010 with some of the state's top offensive talent, their defense is turning heads. The secondary coached by Tony Perry shutdown one of Cali's top passing attacks as Central defeated Temecula (Calif.) Chaparral 27-12 last Saturday…

Entering the 2010 season, much of Central's attention centered on four-star running back Brendon Bigelow's recruitment. The talented back re-injured the same ACL he tore last November in an August 21 scrimmage. He had surgery to repair and will miss the season. While many expected the Grizzlies to falter without Bigleow's presence on the field, his absence has not affected them two games into the season.

Central still has power back Robert Johnson – who holds offers from Arizona State, Fresno State, and LSU among others – and talented sophomore Michael Grimes to run the ball. Not to mention it has one of the top junior quarterbacks in the Golden State in Mike Baker and a plethora talented wideouts led by three-star B.J. Kelley.

Nonetheless, one just has to look to the defense to see why the 2010 Grizzlies have a shot to be the first team from the Central Section to received serious consideration for the CIF state championship game.

Last Saturday, Central faced arguably the toughest test on its schedule in then 19th ranked Temecula (Calif.) Chaparral. The Pumas possess one of the top aerial attacks in the country, and the Grizzlies held quarterback Matt Morin to 90 yards on 11-of-25 passing.

"I thought we did a great job manning up," said Central head coach Casey Quinn. "We were able to man up, neutralize, and stop their big players. And put more guys in the box and stopped the run."

Defensive coordinator Richard Clayton and defensive assistants Donald Speed and Tony Perry implemented a stellar game plan. But the plan worked mostly due to Perry's defensive secondary being able to lock down standout Chaparral receivers Antoine Arnold and Darius Guillory.

"We worked hard on our defensive game plan and our kids did a great job executing it," said Quinn. "We gave up 12 points – really six points – but they were pretty much stuck in front of the football. We were able to get a lot sacks because we were able to cover."

Perry, in his first year at Central, is one of the top secondary coaches in the nation. He spent 20 years at Fresno Edison before moving on to College of the Sequoias for the two years (2008-09). He's sent 20 defensive backs on to D1 colleges while Edison including Tierre Sams, Ricky Manning, and Johnny Sears – all who played or are currently playing in the NFL. As well, Perry coached current Pac-10 players Courtney Viney (UCLA), Robert Golden (Arizona), and Cliff Harris (Oregon). He sent another 10 JUCOs to D1 as the DB coach at COS, including current Arkansas Razorbacks Anthony Leon and Andru Stewart.

Nevertheless, Perry's current secondary at Central could be better than any unit he fielded at Edison. He calls cornerback Tee Shepard the most talented defensive back he's ever coached at this stage of Shepard's career. Shepard is rated a 2012 four-star prospect, according to Scout.com. He holds verbal offers from Arizona, Arizona State, California, Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, and UNLV. As well, he is receiving heavy interest from Alabama and Fresno State among a plethora of other major programs.

Shepard, junior Matt Lea, junior Gary Robinson, and sophomore L.J. Moore are the primary weapons Perry uses. "They're good and they're all coming back," Perry says of his secondary.

In addition, Perry will sprinkle in senior two-way players Robert Johnson and Ernest Carter to bolster the unit in certain packages.

Perry raves about DC Clayton as much as he does his players. "He lets me run my defense," he added. And pressing is what Perry's defensive backs are known for. He pressed Chaparral consistently for four quarters, which helped Central build a 21-0 lead in the third quarter en route to a 27-12 victory.

"It was a very big win for our program," said Quinn. "A huge bench mark as result of all the hard work as far as coaching staff and the determination of our players to get better. It was a big win for our Central community."

Central finished 7-4 last season after going a disastrous 1-9 in 2008 – Quinn's first year at Central. Bringing in Coach Perry and Coach Speed is part of his plan to turn Central into a perennial Central Section power.

"My goal here each year is to bring in guys that could help service our kids," added Quinn. "We had the opportunity to bring Tony Perry and Coach [Donald] Speed in on the defensive side to service our kids and our defensive coordinator Richard Clayton.

"It was a big deal getting those guys. They are great coaches and good guys. I feel privileged getting to know them as individuals and coaches."

But it's not only coaching that has helped the Grizzlies defense this season. The offseason training program is starting to pick up steam. Quinn points to the combination of the two for the improved success.

"The players have improved as well," he added. "They've worked hard in the weight room and on the fundamentals. Obviously, we brought [Perry and Speed] in and they took it to another level."

Now, Central will face a different test this week, being the hunted. The Grizzlies (2-0) host Visalia (Calif.) El Diamante (2-0) on Friday night at Deran Koligian Stadium.

"This is a big deal after coming a big win like a Chaparral you got to come back to solidify what you did the last week," said Quinn. "El Diamante is a good football team, they're well coached, and their kids are going to be excited to play in our stadium.

"We got to tell [our kids] to execute, stay physical, be assignment sound, and get after it. I'm very impressed with Coach [Mark] Rogers and his staff. I'm kind of concerned. We must be ready to compete against a very good El Diamante football team."

One thing is certain, quarterback Brandon Jeffries and the Miner offense better be prepared to face Perry's stingy pass defense.


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