Jeff Yoder Photo / iagameday.smugmug.com
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Dillon Shephard isn’t big into bravado or boasting.
The soft-spoken, hard-hitting Shephard isn’t comfortable in the spot light, he doesn’t use three words when two will do and he won’t pop up on any lists of top recruits.
Those characteristics make Shephard the perfect leader of a blue collar West High defensive line that enters Friday’s Class 4A state title rematch with four-time defending champion West Des Moines Dowling (11-1) playing its best football of the season.
“We are just doing our jobs,” Shephard said. “That’s what playing defensive line is, it’s just doing your job.”
The production for the senior defensive end has been impressive, Shephard has 16 sacks and 31 tackles for loss over the past two seasons, but it’s been everything else he brings that makes Shephard so important.
A three-year starter, Shephard is the ring leader of an undersized and overlooked West High defensive line that has been one of the key components in the Trojans two-year surge towards the top of Class 4A.
“He is a very quiet, soft-spoken kid but he is tougher than hell,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig said. “He is one of many unsung heroes on that defense.”
There are plenty of reasons for West High’s success the past two seasons that includes back-to-back trips to the 4A title game for the second time in program history and first since 1998 and 1999.
At the top of that list is the play of the defensive line.
West High gave up an average of 233 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry while posting a 11-12 record in the first two seasons under Hartwig.
The past two seasons West High has nearly cut those numbers in half, allowing 125 yards a game and 3.7 yards per carry on its way to a 22-3 record and back-to-back 4A title games.
“It speaks to our coaching,” Hartwig said. “Our defensive line coaches Joe Mott and Chad Geary do a great job. They just make sure the next guy is ready.”
The Trojans have been better than ever this season.
Top-ranked West High (12-0) is allowing 98 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry entering its title game rematch with No. 2 Dowling at 7 p.m. at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
Seniors Shephard (6-3, 205) and Chriss Mott (6-3, 200) start at defensive end while juniors Green (5-9, 190) and Jason Strunk (6-0, 215) man the tackle spots.
Without a regular over 215 pounds depth has been an important component for the Trojans front four.
“It’s impressive but it hasn’t really surprised me,” Shephard said of the success. “It’s nice to have that depth we rotate guys in and that helps a lot to keep guys fresh. We have fresh legs when offensive lineman have to play the whole game and we can rotate guys in.”
What makes the performance from the West High defensive front most impressive is how the Trojans have gone about things this season.
West High lost senior defensive tackle Tom Adolph and junior Josh Halverson to injuries and junior defensive tackle Landon Green has also missed time with any injury.
The Trojans haven’t skipped a beat.
“It’s the next guy in,” Green said. “Whoever is in better do their job and if they don’t do their job they aren’t going to play.”
The West High defensive front faces its biggest challenge of the season on Friday against Dowling.
Emphasis on the word big.
Dowling averages 284 pounds per man across its offensive line and has three starters over 290 pounds.
The massive Maroon front has paved the way for Dowling to rush for 303 yards per game on 7.3 yards per carry and helped junior running back Jayson Murray pile up 1,790 yards and 26 touchdowns.
After seeing the Dowling offensive line last year West High says it won’t be intimidated by the size up front.
“I personally don’t care about the size of them,” Green said. “When I see size I just see somehow who is slower and that leaves more time to get around them.”