They call themselves “the raptors.”
For a defensive unit of linebackers that physically looks more like defensive backs, it’s appropriate.
That’s exactly what Bakersfield High has, and they are just fine with it.
“We just run and eat,” said BHS senior linebacker Max Lopez, who stands at 6-foot and weighs in under 200 pounds. “We run to the ball. It’s whoever gets there first. But if one person misses a tackle, all 10 of us are expected to make a tackle right after.”
It was a recipe for success for BHS (6-5) most of the regular season. Last weekend, the defense dominated against Liberty in a 41-6 victory. The victory propelled the Drillers to Friday's Central Section Division I semifinals at No. 1-seed Fresno-Central.
The Drillers were constantly in the Patriots' backfield, recording six sacks while shutting down the run game.
“That’s 100 percent pursuing the ball,” said Jacob Zeimet, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior linebacker. “Even if you mess up, just fly as fast as you can to whoever has the ball. It’s being relentless and coming full force. I mean, look at me. I am not a big guy. Anywhere else I would not be on the line. We are all about speed and being extremely detailed.”
That will have to be key for BHS in the semifinals. While the Drillers' defense is giving up just 10.6 points per game against section opponents this season, the Grizzlies are just as dominant on both sides of the ball.
Central (10-1), undefeated against section opponents, has outscored those teams 430-73 in those 10 games while only losing to Northern California power Concord-De La Salle.
Trent Tompkins, who led Central to the D-I championship game last season as a sophomore, has been fantastic this year. The junior quarterback for the Grizzlies has thrown for 2,867 yards and 29 touchdowns to six different receivers.
“We are going to have to get to that quarterback, for sure. We are going to have to disrupt things. Then I’ll let our DBs do what they do,” Golla said. “We have to mix it up. This guy is really good. Maybe one of the best in the Valley.”
On paper, the Grizzlies are bigger and have played the part all season. For BHS defensive coordinator Jay Durant, that’s just fine with him.
“The thing that has always made us different is our willingness to get to the ball,” Durant said. “When I say our kids don’t look at size, they really don’t even care. We rarely even talk about it. They believe they can play well against anybody.”
Five of the six top tacklers for BHS this season are all guys that define themselves as “raptors.”
Along with Zeimet and Lopez, there is Caden Ochoa (6-0, 185), Ceyontay Bell (5-8, 160) and Adrian Moreno (6-0, 200). Those five have combined for more than 300 tackles and 27 of the team’s 42 sacks.
“Coach tells us it’s not really about size,” Lopez said. “It’s about who wants to make plays and is dirty and mean. We are not as big as everyone expects, but we are dirty, like to hit and get to the ball. We are just physical and dirty. That’s the way we play.”