Dragons Defense May Be Overlooked, But Not Undermanned
By Carlos Mendez
Photos by Ron Jenkins
This is what the Carroll defense is trying to do: Stop drives. Get sacks. Allow less than 100 yards on the ground. Give up no more than two or three big plays.
Oh, one more thing. The biggest thing.
“Just to win.”
Dustan Mark says that. He’s the Dragons leader on defense. Believe him.
“Our main goal is just to win,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. If you can win, then you’re good.”
Mark wins. The Carroll defense wins. They’re good.
It can be easy for fans to overlook the 11 Dragons on the field when Carroll doesn’t have the ball. But don’t. For years, that side of the line of scrimmage has been as valuable to the success of the perennial power as much as the offense.
“It’s easy to get overshadowed as a defense, but I think our guys are really selfless individuals,” safety Aaron Scherp said. “They don’t care about the media and all this special type of praise. As a defense, we don’t let that affect us. If anything, we let it motivate us and it drives us to be better. We know how good the offense is. We want to complement their play.”
For Mark, that’s the mission. The sackmaster is on the way to Princeton for life after Carroll; he knows his job now is in Dragon green, and that of his unit.
“At the end of the day, you can’t win games without defense,” he said. “They always say you can’t win state without a defense. That holds up everywhere.”
Mark isn’t alone in his pursuit. Plentiful help is available not only from Scherp, but also defensive lineman Julian Manero, among others in a highly experienced grouping that consistently keeps the Dragons offense on its toes.
“I hate going against the defense at practice,” quarterback Graham Knowles said, shaking his head and smiling. “They’re a feisty group. They’re 11 hats to the ball at all times.”
The first hat often seems to be Mark. It never surprises the quarterback, a longtime friend.
“The sack machine,” Knowles said. “We knew since eighth grade that he was going to be something. He’ll outlift anyone. He’ll outrun anyone. I remember when he won the 800-meter in track. I’m stuck running away from that guy all practice, so I’m sure other quarterbacks are going to have a tough time.”
Close bonds are evident in all parts of the Carroll team. On defense, it’s especially clear.
“We have 11 seniors on the defense starting,” Scherp said. “We’re a tight, trustworthy group. We’re going to be closer than any other group because we all grew up together. Eight of us went to the same middle school.”
All are determined to make 2023 a special season. Mark promises himself at least one special moment.
“I kinda said to myself that my senior year, I’m gonna get a touchdown,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s going to happen — a fumble recovery, an interception — but I’m going to get a touchdown. That’s my goal this season.”
And to win.