Birmingham Brother Rice senior cornerback and co-captain Chris Carter (#21), seen here making a tackle vs. Warren De La Salle, is a lynchpin of the Warriors defense this fall. (Oakland Press photo file)
FOOTBALL: Lurking in the shadows, Brother Rice defense still destructive WITH VIDEO
An argument for the defense.
While the razzle-dazzle Birmingham Brother Rice offense is generating the lions’ share of the team’s headlines this season, the Warriors’ defensive attack has been quietly fantastic.
The unit may have less high-profile talent on it than their counterparts on the offensive side of the football, but it packs just as powerful as a punch and is equally responsible for the squad’s perfect 6-0 record.
Let’s not forget Brother Rice’s back-to-back state-title teams the last two years were highlighted by a defense so electrifying it was dubbed “The Electric Company.”
Make no mistake about it, there is still quite a bit of juice and jolt in the Brother Rice defense this season, too.
Just ask the Warriors’ adversaries.
Opponents of Brother Rice are only completing 30 percent of their passes, with a mere 27-percent conversion rate on third-down plays. The Warriors’ defense has racked up six interceptions and seven sacks.
Legendary Brother Rice head coach Al Fracassa is certainly impressed.
“They don’t get rattled and really do an outstanding job for us,” said the state’s all-time winningest coach, in his final year on the sidelines, of the unit. “The whole defense exhibits tremendous character in their play. As a group, they work hard. We’re getting a lot of contributions from a lot of different young men.”
On Friday night, Brother Rice collected a 31-14 win on the road at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, holding the Eaglets without an offensive touchdown until late in the fourth quarter when the game was already basically decided.
Superstar senior free safety Jason Alessi returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown that closed the third quarter and served as the knockout blow in a game that minutes earlier appeared to be destined to go down to the wire.
Alessi is the definition of an impact player. Committed to the University of Michigan for a lacrosse scholarship, he’s now all of a sudden attracting significant interest from an ever-growing list of Division I college-football programs. He has half (three) of his club’s interceptions and calls signals from the Warriors' back-end.
“Everyone knows their roles and does them well,” said Alessi of the unit. “The players on the line have forced lots of third-and-longs and the guys in the secondary are being quick to the ball.”
Chris Carter, a senior co-captain, made the switch from safety last season to cornerback this year and the transition has been seamless to say the least. His cover-skills have proved impeccable. Always covering the opposing team’s top wide receiver, he’s displayed lockdown ability, both in bump-and-run and deep coverage.
“It all starts with trust,” Carter said. “The coaches are putting us in the right schemes and we're putting in the time in practice and in the film room to be as good as we possibly can.”
Both Carter and fellow starting cornerback Grant Perry are being recruited at the next level. Perry is being sought as a receiver.
Moving into the starting strong safety slot last week, senior sparkplug Charles Gleeson posted another stellar effort Friday, tallying 10 tackles for a second week in a row.
The linebacker corps, looked at as a potential weakness in the preseason, is fearsome. Seniors Jack Grisan and Shaun Jones, each a big contributor last season, and newcomer Riley Maher, a fast-rising sophomore, are the starters and their styles compliment each other nicely.
Grisan (team-high 45 tackles, 2 sacks) is a co-captain and emotional leader for the unit on the field and in the locker room.
Up front, Division I-recruit Alberto Sandoval, an active and fiery presence in the middle of the defensive line, anchors Brother Rice in the trenches. Sandoval (team-high three sacks) and junior Jack Dunaway, a pleasant surprise at the point of attack this year, have been applying consistent pressure in the pocket all season long.
Laughing and joking with his teammates after the St. Mary’s game, Carter flashed a smile to some members of the press.
“We have a ton of fun together,” he said. "That's led to good things."