Football: Offense, defense as different

Danny Schoenbaechler

T.J. Weist is standing at midfield with his arms crossed, observing his offense in action.

He is a thin man, who is wearing a red Western football shirt tucked neatly into his pleated khaki shorts. A whistle is dangling loosely around his neck.

It is near the end of a Sunday afternoon practice, and the team is playing a controlled scrimmage.

The quiet Weist is equally controlled as his offense attempts to execute each play fluently.

Weist, Western’s offensive coordinator, looks at the sheets of paper in his hand while drifting towards the huddle to deliver an instruction to his unit.

The offense runs play after play in near silence, concentrating on hitting the correct holes and reading the proper progressions.

Forty yards away, Don Martindale stands on the 10 yard line.

Martindale is a much larger man, wearing his gray T-shirt loosely untucked above his red athletic shorts.

What is obviously unusual is the straw hat resting on his head. Martindale, the defensive coordinator, barks his instructions to his defense before throwing his hands in the air after one of his linebackers fills the wrong hole.

Throughout the scrimmage, various defensive players yell and scream in between each play.

An interception or hard hit are cause for taunting, while a teammate playing too softly is cause for violent verbal instruction.

“They know what it takes to be successful,” Martindale said.

This type of attitude is nothing knew to a Western defense that has reason to play with a contagious but borderline obnoxious confidence.

“I love coaching here because of that tradition,” Martindale said. “We want to be the best in the country.”

After each interception, the defensive unit yells how many that is for the day, while tormenting a true freshman quarterback.

But this is the type of attitude and atmosphere that has fueled one of Division I-AA’s most fearsome defenses throughout this decade.

On the other side of the ball, Weist insists that he has no desire for his offense to rely on that level of emotion.

“The defense is louder everywhere,” he said. “Defense is more geared on emotion and flying around. The defense is more about reacting to what the offense does. The offense is more about thinking and execution.”

Senior free safety Antonio Veals said he is very confident in how strong this defense can be.

“It’s going pretty good,” he said. “We’ve got some players that can really do some things.”

During one play, newly converted backup linebacker Sam Sexton swatted the ball out of quarterback Justin Haddix’s hands.

Immediately, fellow linebacker Erik Dandy led a host of other defensive players screaming, “That’s right Sam, that’s how ya do it.”

Players like Dandy and Veals, along with Martindale, help establish the unit’s boisterous personality.

“We’ve got the same mentality as we’ve had for the past few years,” said Jeremy Chandler, the defensive captain. “A lot of us just walked into the tradition that was set before.”

But on the flip side, the offense’s leadership won’t be coming from under center like Jason Michael did last year.

Instead it will be the Hilltopper’s experienced offensive line and wide receivers who supply both the leadership and the personality.

It will be people like Buster Ashley and Joe Washington on the line and Shannon Hayes and Casey Rooney from the wideout position.

“You’d like your quarterback to be (a leader), but it can come from other players as well,” Weist said.

The Toppers open their season and national championship defense at 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Stadium against Union College. And Martindale and Weist will be patrolling the sideline watching their bipolar units go to work.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]