In what has been a banner year for Santa Fe football, one intriguing key to the Indians’ success has been a defensive line smaller than most physically, but one that has been highly effective thanks to its intelligence, athleticism and sheer will to win.
“We’re not your typical defensive line, but we do, for our size, get the job done,” senior defensive end Kaleb Wisko said. “We may not be the biggest, but we’ve got all the heart, and we’ve got a lot of pride that we put into this game. Each one of us loves this game.”
What the Indians’ defensive linemen lack in size, they make up for with speed as well as superb technique and movement.
“They’ve done a great job,” Santa Fe head coach Mark Kanipes said. “They’ve come a long way. … When they do their job, they allow the linebackers to make tackles. That’s kind of what they do. We’re a gap-control defense, so their job, basically, is to maintain their gaps, take on double teams, get on the ground, and let the guys behind them go to the ball in their place.”
The four starters — Wisko, seniors Antonio Botello and Gage Slaughter, and junior Reece Dobson — in the trenches for Santa Fe offer different individual strengths to create a diverse defensive line.
With Wisko, it’s his speed off the edge. In the middle, Botello is the run stopper, while Slaughter brings a high motor. Manning the other end position, Dobson is described as “the smart guy” in the group.
“Each of us plays in our own way, each of us has our specialties,” Wisko said. “We all look to do different things, try different things out and do whatever works best. It changes from game to game. You study who’s doing what, and fix what you have to in order to be successful in the next game.”
The highlight of the season for Santa Fe’s defensive line, so far, was an upset win over Crosby, which entered the game state-ranked.
“That was a good turning point for us,” Slaughter said.
In addition to being a turning point for their season, that Crosby win was crucial in seeing the Indians clinch the program’s first playoff berth since 2009.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, and I’m not surprised one bit,” Dobson said. “Almost all of our team are seniors, and they’ve put in work for three, four years now. So, of course it was going to come. It was just a matter of putting in the work.”
During the past few years, Santa Fe has maintained a strong work ethic and have inched closer to being a team capable of making the postseason. But, while in years past, the Indians may have lacked a piece or two to complete the proverbial playoff puzzle, this season, they were able to put it all together.
“It feels amazing to know that we figured out what we needed to do, and have done something here that hadn’t been done in a very long time,” Wisko said.
The Indians will look to add another district win to their tally when they host Barbers Hill at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Joe Raitano Field.