By Chris Yow
Summit coach Brian Coleman doesn’t even attend his team’s defensive meetings anymore. That’s how much trust he has in his defensive coordinator Alex Melton.
Coleman calls Melton the “head coach” of the defense, and praised his ability to find the right personnel for the team’s game plan each week.
“For him to be able to change the personnel around all year and throughout the playoffs, to help our strengths and weaknesses out. He’s done a great job with that.”
Throughout the season, Summit — like every other team — has had to deal with COVID issues. Whether it was a player being contact traced or just having to deal with the difficulties of keeping players safe while at home or in school, those losses forced Melton to find unique ways to gameplan.
Not to mention, the Spartans lost 4-star linebacker Keaten Wade during the first week of the season to a foot injury. He didn’t return to regular playing time until last week’s win at Henry County.
“You go into a season thinking we have one of the best players in the state of Tennessee in Keaten Wade, and then you lose him — that’s just a hole we had to fill quick,” Coleman said. “We’ve gotten better each week. We’re a team defense, and that’s the key.”
One of the reasons Melton has been able to find ways around the loss of Wade and any other players who may have been affected by injury or COVID, is the versatility of Gavin Wells.
Wells, who has played both inside and outside linebacker positions over the last two seasons, is a player the Spartans count on when they need a play.
“Gavin has had to move from MLB to OLB depending on what personnel we have and what personnel the opposing offense has,” Coleman said. “I think he is a key to this defense for being able to go both places is key for our team. It’s a team concept, they take great pride in stopping the run.”
Last season, Wells practiced at outside linebacker for most of the offseason, but when another student moved, he was forced to play inside linebacker. He played the position the entire year, including last year’s BlueCross Bowl.
“I’ve been switching back and forth this year because we would lose someone for contact tracing or whatever, but it hasn’t been too hard,” Wells said. “I started last year at outside linebacker but moved to middle the day of the first game, so I knew both positions already.
Wells said keeping trust in his teammates to do their jobs is key for everyone on the Spartans’ defense.
“It’s easy to do what I’m supposed to do when I know everybody else will do their job,” he said. “Jesse (Brimeyer) and the line do a great job not letting the line get to us so we can run free. Maddox Reed is everywhere. He is in the backfield before anybody knows what hit ‘em, and we swarm to the ball.”
Swarming to the ball is the mindset Melton wants his team to have, and that’s one of the reasons the Spartans have given up just 80.5 yards per game on the ground during the postseason. Beech ran for 264 yards against Summit, which means the Spartans gave up just 56 total yards in its three other playoff matchups.
On Friday night, the Spartans take on Oak Ridge, who runs for 127.3 yards per game, led by Kendall Jackson. Jackson, a junior, averages just shy of 100 yards per game, including 5.2 yards per carry. The balanced Wildcats throw for 160.9 yards per game, meaning Summit will have to play assignment football in order to slow their opponent down.
Summit is looking for its first state title, while Oak Ridge will be playing for its first since 1991. With all the drama, uncertainty and cancelled games, Wells feels like a gold ball at the end of the season would fit perfectly.
“It would be amazing to end this crazy year with a state championship,” he said.