While Dickinson Gators head coach John Snelson was fairly confident in his offensive playmakers heading into the 2017 season, the outlook on defense was not as clear.

What was clear was the fact that new faces would need to step up in a big way if Dickinson was going to do justice to its trademark “Dark Side” defense known for its speed, physicality and for shutting opposing offenses down.

An unsung hero of the defense who has emerged from being a backup and role player last year to a key team leader this season has been senior inside linebacker Jalen Jones.

“He’s playing with a lot of enthusiasm and has just been really that glue factor that’s holding us together right now,” Snelson said.

The Gators defense has been a work in progress throughout the 2017 campaign. After a dominant showing against Texas City in the season opener, Dickinson won a double-overtime shootout with Fort Bend Ridge Point, lost a double-OT outing against Friendswood and were topped by Clear Lake.

Since the Clear Lake loss, though, Dickinson is 2-0 with a big win over Clear Springs that was followed by a successful defensive battle with Alvin.

“Ever since the Ridge Point game and those two losses to Friendswood and Lake, we’ve stepped up and got back to what coach Snelson calls the Gator defense, the Dark Side defense,” Jones said.

As an inside linebacker, Jones is required to be vocal leader, both during games and at practices — a role he has embraced this season. On the field during games, Jones is responsible for lining up his fellow defenders in the spots they need to be in and for keeping them all focused on the task at hand.

“It prides me a lot because it tells me that (Snelson) trusts me in this role and that he trusts me to be the man who speaks up and takes control,” Jones said.

When fellow vocal leader and inside linebacker Da’Von Graves recently went down with an injury, Jones had to step up even more as a leader on the defense, Snelson said.

“He’s just really been steady for us all year long,” Snelson said. “We’ve had a bunch of injuries to our linebackers, and Jalen has just been that guy who shows up every single day, puts the work in, and keeps us improving every week.”

Up next for Dickinson (4-2 overall, 2-2 in District 24-6A) and its Dark Side defense will be a tall task as they hit the road to take on a high-powered Clear Creek (3-3, 2-2) offense 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re looking at it like it’s a do-or-die situation to get in the playoffs,” Jones said. “This is the game that will put us in or take us out.”

James LaCombe: 409-683-5242, james.lacombe@galvnews.com or on Twitter @JamesAtGalvNews

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