If the clouds in Mustang start getting dark, Waleed Gaines doesn’t want opponents to think it’s just the weather.
“Something is going on that shouldn’t be going on,” the first-year defensive coordinator said.
The mentality is there for Gaines and the Broncos, who enter 2023 with a chip on their shoulders compared to their offensive counterparts. Swarm and punish are two words they live and play by.
“Just like when a storm is rolling in, I want people to see us and know they might want to watch out.”
Mustang’s defensive identity will be built on speed and playing fast. And momentum, which Gaines considers an important attribute to learn while growing as a player.
“As soon as they realize how momentum works and that they are the dude, this team will be even more special than we ever thought,” Gains said.
“When you have a lot of inexperienced players as far as being the guy, it’s going to be really important to understand what momentum really looks like. Once we figure that out, I think this unit can help carry any team.”
Russell Zolicoffer (Sr.) and Louie Jones (Jr.) return as the two most experienced defensive lineman for the Broncos and each has explosive talent.
“We’re looking for the defensive line to be a strong point for us and to step up and provide that anchor we need,” he said. “Louie has been getting better and better every day. Russell, too. He is so smart and strong. He is one of those guys that can play the nose guard to the five-technique. He definitely does all we need.”
Russell Zolicoffer (Sr.) brings down a Deer Creek ball carrier during a game last season. Zolicoffer is expected to help lead Mustang’s defensive front in 2023. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth / Freelance Action Photography)
Zolicoffer accounted for 66 total tackles last season, including 11.5 tackles for loss and two and one-half sacks. Jones racked up 26 total tackles with three sacks.
Michael Johnson (Sr.) and Haden Hildebrand (Sr.) will also look to get into opponent backfields. Johnson moved down from linebacker and is an explosive rusher off the end.
“I could name a bunch of guys we think can get the job done for us,” Gaines said. “We have great depth there, which is huge.”
Caston “Bear” Meadows (Sr.) finished second only to Hudson Conrad last year in total tackles, racking up 96. He also finished with four and one-half tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries and will now be the leader of the defensive unit.
“He is the captain and the guy,” Gains said of the upperclassman. “He is just so knowledgeable and a head-sy leader. He won’t say five words to you but will hit you in five words. He’s going to be that anchor we’re looking for.”
Caston “Bear” Meadows (Sr.) helps bring down a ball carrier during a game last season at home. Meadows finished with 96 tackles last season and should be one of the team leaders in 2023. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth / Freelance Action Photography)
Sophomores Parker Sorrell, Josiah Stevens, and Kaden Bachus are also expected to be in the mix for reps at linebacker. Bachus is a missile according to Gaines and has a chance to be special.
“Make sure you listen to that name,” Gaines said. “When he figures out exactly what we’re doing that dude is going to flourish. He hits anything moving.
“Those three sophomores are going to be something to keep your eye on the next three years. They’ve got some stuff going on and we’re excited about that.”
Starting safety Zach Warren (Sr.) returns to lead a talented and experienced secondary, which also includes returners Waleed Gaines Jr. (Jr.) and Qualon Perry (Sr.).
Warren and Gaines each finished with just under 50 tackles last season. Warren has gained muscle over the offseason and now weighs in at 191 pounds says Gaines, making him a highly recruitable player. He racked up 49 tackles with one interception.
Gaines Jr. led the team with three interceptions to go along with his 48 tackles last year. Being a coach’s son comes with plenty of pressure and his dad understands. However, expectations are still high for the young cornerback.
Safety Zach Warren (Sr.) brings down a Moore offensive player during team camp earlier this summer. Warren racked up 49 tackles with one interception last season. (Photo by Ron Lane / Lane Images)
“He handles that pressure well,” Gaines said. “We’re expecting to see him have the season he has worked for.”
Perry recorded 14 tackles last year and is in a position battle with Jesus Soto (Sr.). Tavion Penn, who transferred from Del City, and freshman Tucker Brown are also expected to see playing time in the secondary. Brown was one of the elite players on the undefeated eighth grade team last year.
“There are 20-30 kids I could name off that have been fighting and fighting every day for a starting spot or for playing time,” Gaines said.
Gaines says that although the defensive unit returns key players from last year, most of them weren’t called upon to play leading roles early in their careers. Now they are and that’s where the inexperience comes in.
“A lot of guys played last year, but weren’t expected to be the guy,” he said. “This year they’re expected to be the guy. No matter what if you have a young player not used to making plays, there are issues. We should have less of that this year.”
Aiden Jordan (Jr.) is back after a solid sophomore campaign. He gives the Broncos a big weapon from either hash, returning as one of the best kickers in the state. He is also a stalwart on the kickoff unit, rarely allowing anything more than a touchback.
Kicker Aiden Jordan (Jr.) returns as one of the best in the state. He is expected to be a weapon with placekicks and kickoffs. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth / Freelance Action Photography)
Carl Ripley (Sr.), who moved from quarterback to wide receiver offensively, is expected to replace Tristan Russell, who doubled as QB and punter last season. Coach Lee Blankenship says Ripley is able to launch it 40-50 yards on each kick and should be a weapon throughout the season.
Gaines Jr. and sophomore twin brothers Jaden and Jaytee Johnson are expected to see the bulk of the work in the kickoff and punt return game. They have big shoes to fill, taking over for Jacobe Johnson and Keegan Bass, two of the best in Mustang history.