Ankle socks and Crocs on his feet, a few of his friends laughing as they watch him, South Pointe defensive lineman Rontarious Aldridge settles into a three-point stance near the entrance of his school’s media center on a Wednesday afternoon.
His teammate and fellow senior on the line, Darian Ervin, is in a two-point stance in front of him, standing in for what normally would be a hitting pad. They’re demonstrating a drill they call “the chute,” a drill that’s meant to teach linemen to stay low as they launch themselves from their stances into the opposing line.
They’ll do this drill on the field on any weekday besides Wednesdays, a day each week designated for catching up on schoolwork and film study.
This particular demonstration isn’t a serious one, though. They’re really just doing it to poke fun at sophomore Jaden Hicklin, who was forced to redo the drill a few times at practice the day before. Everyone, including Hicklin, is laughing, joking — especially when they talk about how they knew they were in trouble with their position coach.
“This is what (Coach Gerald Peak) does though: He looks at you and doesn’t say any words,” senior Justin Hood said, shaking his head with a smile. “He just looks at you, and points his fingers up and down. And we got to do them up-downs.”
Aldridge chimes in: “Yeah, and if he doesn’t do that, he’ll look at his whistle, blow it, tell you it works and then tell you to do an up-down. Its over when he does that.”
In a snapshot, this is the South Pointe defensive line: It’s a tight-knit family of fun-loving upperclassmen and sophomores who are quick to poke fun at each other, and who are quicker to praise each other. The group is made up of seniors Aldridge (a Shrine Bowl selection), Hood, Ervin and Mark Miller; junior Ernie Greenwood; and sophomores Hicklin, Anquerrious Davis and Alex Archie. The unit is coached by Peak and Gerald Dixon.
“It’s a fun group to coach,” said Peak, who’s been in South Pointe’s football program since the school opened in 2005, directly coaching several players who would eventually go on to play in the NFL. “They remind me of some of the other groups that we’ve had here. They get along very well …
“This group reminds me a little bit of the 2016 group, when Eli (Adams) was a junior. They worked well as a unit. They didn’t care who got the credit.”
In many ways, this defensive line is the anchor to the Stallions’ formidable, at-times immovable defense. South Pointe (7-0, 2-0) has only allowed 15 points per game thus far this season — and it has given up less than four points in the second half of games on average. In its most recent contest against Lancaster, after allowing 21 points in the first half, the defensive unit didn’t give up a score in the second.
The Stallions have notched a sack in every game this season except one earlier this month against Westwood.
When asked about the Westwood game, Aldridge had an explanation at the ready: “So you got five offensive linemen, and then you got one tight end, right?” he said. “So this is how it was: I was playing defensive end. I had the guard, tackle and the tight end — they were all blocking me, triple-teaming me.”
It should be noted that while telling this story, others from the defensive line laughed and tried to interrupt Aldridge, as if to remark that he was exaggerating. Nonetheless, with a smile, Aldridge continued: “Then you got our nose-guard, No. 90 (Davis), getting blocked by the center. I don’t know how he didn’t get any sacks. And you know, my counterpart, they were double-teaming J.J.”
Aldridge said Westwood ran the ball almost every play in the second half.
“This is what (Westwood) said, I heard them,” Aldridge said. “‘We can’t throw the ball on them; their DL too fast.’”
By the time Coach Peak walked out of the school on that Wednesday afternoon, the rest of the defensive line had left the media center 20 minutes ago. And yet, as he turned a corner out of the school, he saw what he expected to see.
He saw Aldridge, Ervin and a few others. They were chasing each other around the parking lot, listening to music from a car’s stereo, soaking in every moment they could with their friends turned football family.