Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Not long ago it was the defense that was the weak spot for the West High football program.
West High allowed better than 29 points per game during a 4-7 season in 2015, the last season that didn’t end with the Trojans playing in the state title game.
The Achilles heel for that 2015 West High defense? Stopping the run.
“I don’t remember anything about that year, I just know the next season the coaches told us we had to be better,” said West High defensive tackle Landon Green. “That was kind of the challenge they gave us.”
Over the last three seasons defending the run has gone from a weakness to the biggest strength on what has become a dominant West High defense.
Not surprisingly the wins have followed.
West High is 23-5 over the past three seasons with a pair of Class 4A runner-up finishes to its credit.
Even less of a coincidence is that the sudden and drastic improvement against the run coincides with the arrival Green.
“When you best players are your leaders by example it makes life a lot easier for us as coaches and he’s one of our best players,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig said of Green. “More than anything he wants to win and he doesn’t care how he wins. That means if it’s somebody else making the play or getting the tackle he is fine doing his job and I think that’s the definition of a true leader.”
It makes sense Green doesn’t recall the defensive struggles of 2015.
He was a freshman that season when West High allowed 251 rushing yards per game on better than 5.6 yards per crack.
The following season Green worked his way into the defensive line rotation as a 190-pound sophomore and helped West High hold opponents to 151 rushing yards per game on 4.2 yards per carry.
Last season Green was a stalwart up front as West High went 12-1 while limiting foes to 107 yards per game on the ground and 3.3 yards per carry.
“I think on the defensive line we just realized that you don’t need the biggest guys to have success,” Green said. “You can have quick, fast guys at defensive line and be successful and that helped our confidence.”
Now a 5-foot-9, 210-pound ball of muscle Green is the unquestioned leader of an undersized but imposing West High defensive line that ranks among the best in the state.
Two games into the season the Green-led defensive front is helping the Trojans hold opponents to 106 rushing yards per game on 2.9 yards a carry.
Those are the lowest totals of Green’s three-year varsity career and a far cry from the numbers of the 2015 season.
“He has that mentality you look for and you won’t find many guys tougher than him and now that he’s a senior he’s added the vocal leadership component,” West High defensive coordinator Tyler Meade said. “He knows everyone’s job and he can correct the defensive lineman next to him. When you have a guy like that with the reputation of a guy that knows how it’s done he then pulls everybody in with him.”
Green has led a turnaround of the West High defensive front but his own story is equally impressive.
Undersized by traditional defensive tackle standards Green has used his stature to his advantage while becoming one of the most disruptive defensive lineman in the state.
“He just has great leverage, he has a wrestling background and being a state champion thrower he understands how to move his feet,” Meade said. “You have that low man wins mentality and he is already there. Usually you don’t look at being 5-foot-9 as being an advantage but he has leverage immediately,”
Against the backdrop of offensive lineman that tower over 6-feet tall Green isn’t easy to spot at 5-foot-8.
Up close his impressive physique is hard to miss.
The strongest player on the team Green bench presses more than 330 pounds and can squat more than 450. He is a grinder in the weight room where he competes with teammates almost as fiercly as he battles opponents on the playing field.
"I like lifting, I'm competitive with those guys," Green said. "If someone lifts more I want to do more. I think we are more competitive on the field but there is definitely competition in the weight room."
The biggest asset for Green isn’t his strength but his speed and quickness.
Operating against larger offensive lineman Green has used his agility to made 7.5 tackles for loss in two games this season.
"He’s strong, he’s fast and he’s tough,” Hartwig said of Green. “When you have that combination as a defensive lineman you are going to have a lot success and that’s why he’s having the type of year he’s having. He’s a stud.”
Green entered his senior season with 45 career tackles that include 12 for loss and 3.5 sacks.
He’s on pace to shatter those career numbers this season.
Green leads West High with 14 tackles, his 7.5 tackles for loss lead Class 4A and he already has a pair of sacks.
“I’m not at my highest peak I’m still growing but I think in the last two years I’ve come a long way,” Green said. “I’ve gotten stronger but I’ve learned how to use my speed even more.”
The impressive numbers this season have come while working against constant double teams.
“A lot of times with what we do he’s getting double teamed,” Meade said. “At times you look for ways to get him one-on-one but the amount of times he can take a double team and still be in the mix it finds a way to work itself out.”
Class 4A No. 8 West High (1-1) held second-ranked Bettendorf to 145 rushing yards and 293 total yards in a 10-7 loss last season.
Green and his defensive teammates face another tough test on Friday hosting Southeast Polk (0-2) and standout running back Gavin Williams.
Williams is major college recruit with a long list of offers and has rushed for 170 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry through two games.
It is exactly the kind of challenge Green looks forward too.
“We definitely look forward to a challenge like that,” Green said. “If you don’t I don’t know what kind of football player you would be but I’m ready for it.”
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