Eastwood’s defensive line continuing the tradition

Mark Griffin

Much of the credit for Eastwood’s run to the Division V state championship game in 2017 belonged to the performance of the Eagles’ vaunted defensive line.
That unit included first-team All-Ohio end Antonio Salinas, end Zach Henline, nose guard Seth Welch and tackles Dalton Andrews, Hunter Slattman and Addison Clark. Welch was the Northern Buckeye Conference Lineman of the Year that season, and Andrews is now on the roster at the University of Toledo.
“That was a special group,” said Eastwood defensive line coach Steve Aungst, who coached linebackers in 2017. “They were similar to this (defensive line) group, as far as size and athleticism. That group probably had just a little more experience.”
The 2017 defense held its state finals opponent, Wheelersburg, to just 0.6 yards per carry on 30 rushing attempts. This year’s defense is allowing just 64 yards a game on the ground - 2.7 yards per rush attempt – for the third-ranked Eagles (8-0, 5-0 NBC).
“All of those guys on the defensive line are critical to our success,” Eastwood head coach Craig Rutherford said. “That might be the most important group. It’s impressive the way they work each week and the way the understand where they fit in the defense. They are unselfish and they just want to win.”
Eastwood, which shut out Lake, 34-0, last Friday, has outscored opponents by a 324-78 margin and is allowing just 9.8 points per game. The Eagles could clinch a share of the NBC title with a win at Elmwood (3-5) on Friday.
The D-line has had to overcome injuries to senior end Austin Kieper and sophomore nose guard Cole Kiefer. Kieper, who separated his shoulder four weeks ago against Otsego, was a second team All-NBC tackle last year. Junior end Gage Might was also named to the second team as a sophomore.
Might has 25 tackles this season, including eight tackles for loss, with three sacks and one fumble recovery.
“Gage is probably our most physical (lineman) and is technically sound with his fundamentals,” Aungst said. “He went to a couple camps and worked on some pass rush stuff. He wants to get better with his leverage, everything. He has a motor, where play one is the same speed as play 80. There is no in-between with him.”
Junior Blake Landis, who leads the team with nine sacks, moved to end from tackle after the injury to Kieper. Landis has 25 tackles, including 13 for loss, and one fumble recovery.
“Blake’s been great at end,” Aungst said. “He’s our most athletic defensive lineman and he has a willingness to take coaching. All those guys do very well at taking coaching. He’s very receptive to constructive criticism and he’s a hard worker. He can get wherever he wants in a hurry.”
Senior nose guard/tackle Austen Nissen has 10 tackles, including two for loss, and junior tackle Max Buchman has 10 tackles (five for loss) and two sacks.
“Austen is having a great senior season,” Aungst said. “He’s one of our leaders up front, and I love his work ethic. He was not a starter at the beginning of the year, but he prepared like a starter and I really respect that. I’m very happy with his progression. Max can play every defensive line position very well. If someone is hurt or needs a blow, he’s willing to go in at end, tackle or the nose position. He works hard and comes to practice with a purpose every day to get better.”
Aungst said he wasn’t sure when Kieper (13 tackles, four for loss, three sacks) would return to the lineup, adding that Kieper has remained close with the team while nursing his injury.
“He’s been very involved with our drills,” Aungst said. “He’s been like a second coach on the D-line. He was having a great senior year. We moved him from nose to end after last year because of his athletic ability. He’s making the best of everything, for sure.”
Kiefer has 14 tackles (one for loss) and one sack on the season.
“He’s come a long way since the first practice,” Aungst said. “He has a lot of skills. Once he figures out his technique, he’s going to be a very good lineman. He just needs more reps. The physical tools are there.”
Aungst said 6-foot-2, 247-pound junior lineman Maverick Bowser, who injured his knee in the season opener, has played offensive tackle the past two games and will start rotating in on defense.
The 2019 D-line is making a name for itself, but it remains to be seen if this group can carry the Eagles to another long playoff run.
“They’re getting very close to that (2017) level,” Aungst said. “A lot of these guys are still juniors and they have another year of varsity experience that will help. Two years ago, those guys were tough. I’m not questioning toughness with these guys, but they were tough, fast and physical two years ago. We’re starting to get there, and we’ve gotten better and better every week.”


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