Trojan pair lead one of the best defenses ever at HHS

Some folks simply take pride in stopping progress. But few take more pride in it than the defensive squad on this year’s Hillsboro High School football team.

Two senior starters on that squad, Andrew Hein and Ronnie Davis, are playing with a lot pride these days-and for good reason.

“I love defense,” said Hein, a 6-2, 206-pound linebacker and three-year starter. “Having the other team with no points on the board, that’s the thrill of it-and keeping the offense down to negative rushing yards.”

The Trojans have come about as close to doing that as you can realistically expect any team to. Hillsboro has allowed fewer than seven points and 105 yards total offense a game.

The play of the defense has been a key reason the Trojans are sitting on an 8-0 record and are one tough win away from post-season play.

“We’ve started since our sophomore year and this is the best defense we’ve had,” said Davis, a 5-8, 248-pound nose guard. “We’ve had great players come in and out, but overall as a team, this is the best we’ve ever been.”

Dennis Boldt, defensive coordinator for head coach Dustin McEwen, said this squad is the best he’s ever coached during his tenure and may be among the best units this season in Class 3A.

“We have incredible pride in our defense,” Boldt said. “The athletes have the attitude that they will not yield anything across the line of scrimmage.

“Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to test our defense against teams in the state playoffs if we are fortunate enough to qualify this Thursday.”

No one is looking past Thursday’s showdown with Hesston, who is 7-1 and boasts the top running back in the league in Brian Rouhlac.

But Davis and Hein said they want to go far in post-season play. They see the play of the defense as being the key.

“I had a middle school coach who always told me that offense wins games and defense wins championships,” Hein said. “I believe in that. If the other team can’t put anything on the board, all your offense has to do is get lucky once, or even let your defense score.”

Added Davis: “It’s a matter of trying to dominate each game as it comes and just shutting them down each time. If we shut them out on defense, the offense is eventually going to come around.”

Davis has been a defensive specialist since his middle school days, when he started as a seventh-grader on the eighth-grade team.

“I’ve always played defense,” he said. “That’s why I think my skills on defense have really improved. Because I’ve played defense my whole life, I can read offenses pretty well. That’s how I usually get a lot of my tackles-I can read the flow of the ball, just by experience.

“I think it helps because I’m fresher,” he added. “If I had to play both ways, I probably wouldn’t do as well on defense.”

Hein, on the other hand, toils on both sides of the ball, playing tackle on the offensive line, too.

“I’m pretty tired by the end of the game,” he admitted. “If I had to choose, I had have to stick with defense. There’s something about just laying somebody out that’s fun.”

Boldt sees both seniors as key contributors on a well-balanced team.

“Ronnie is an emotional team leader,” Boldt said. “Physically, he is the anchor of our defense. Most teams will need to double-team him because of his strength and stature.

“Andrew is our middle linebacker and takes the calls for the defense during the games,” Boldt added. “He is literally at the center of everything. He calls the offensive strengths which aligns our defense.”

Boldt said their presence on the field brings complementary dimensions to the team.

“Andrew has a real nose for the ball, and has good timing on his blitzes,” Boldt said. “He is pretty relentless in pursuit, but heady enough to drop back in pass coverage when needed.

“Ronnie is quite a load to handle coming off the ball,” he added. “It is tough for offensive linemen to cut him because of his quickness, and his strength allows him to take on blockers effectively to slow down a ball carrier.”

For all the skills and determination Hein and Davis exhibit on the field, they agree the thing that sets this defensive squad apart is the way the entire team gels on the field.

“I think everybody’s flowing well,” Hein said. “When you look up after you make a tackle, there’s five or six guys on the pile.”

Davis said the unity on this year’s squad will be a favorite memory long after the season is over.

“No one’s really gotten on each other,” Davis said. “And people are stepping up when someone gets hurt or has to rest.”

To help solidify that unity, the seniors initiated a new tradition this fall. On Thursday practices, when the team dresses out only in shorts, shoulder pads and jerseys for a lighter practice, the defensive starters now sport black jerseys and call themselves the “Black Shirts,” a la the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

“I think everybody’s enjoying that,” Davis said.

Though Davis and Hein are intent on playing one game at a time, they both agree where they’d like to be when this magical season is over.

“A state championship would be great, but it is all in how hard everyone on the whole team, from freshmen on up, believes that we can do it-and the community too,” Davis said.

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