After beginning its district schedule getting popped in the mouth by Prosper, Allen and Plano Senior and giving up 154 points, the McKinney defense has gone from zeros to heroes.
Since their disastrous start, the Lions have turned things around on defense, which has been the catalyst to the team’s success down the stretch. In McKinney’s last five games, which have been all do-or-die contest, the defense is allowing a very stingy 15 points per game and has at least one interception in every outing.
Even more important — McKinney has won every game, including last week against Naaman Forest, for the program’s first playoff win since 1993.
“I’ve never personally seen this big a turnaround for a unit in a season, but it’s been great to be a part of and all credit goes out to the coaching staff I have beneath me and the kids,” said Zack Zimmermann, McKinney defensive coordinator. “Those guys never lost faith and trusted into the process all season long and they saw on film that it was just little things holding us back. We have simply been taking away the opponent’s best weapon and the kids have believed in the game plan and have executed at a high level.”
A prime example of McKinney’s revamped “D” taking away a major weapon paying dividends is the Lions’ must-win game against Jesuit. In the game, McKinney was able to hold Jesuit’s leading 1,000-yard running back Jake Taylor to 88 yards and no scores while pulling off the 28-23 season-saving upset win.
Two of McKinney’s defensive standouts who have played light’s-out football during the team’s winning streak have been senior defensive back Datron Brooks and junior defensive back Adrian Shephard. Brooks has recorded 30 tackles with nine going for a loss, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and made multiple big plays during the streak.
In McKinney’s bi-district playoff win last week, Brooks made his biggest play of the season when he returned an interception from 22 yards out for what would be the Lions only touchdown on the night.
“I’m just going to continue staying focused on the play at hand and be disciplined at doing my responsibilities and what my coach tells me to do, and when I get the ball, continue having tunnel vision and trying to make a big play,” Brooks said. “Each week, it’s a nameless and faceless opponent. We come out and play everyone the same and don’t look at the stats or how good of a team they are.”
Like Brooks, Shephard has been a big playmaker and leads the team in tackles and interceptions during the streak with 54 tackles and three picks.
Although he had an outstanding game with eight tackles, including three for a loss, in McKinney’s playoff victory, the talented Shephard’s biggest play of the season was a game-sealing interception against crosstown rival Boyd — a play that officially clinched the Lions’ third consecutive playoff berth. But to many in the program, that turnover put the gold stamp on the incredible defensive turnaround McKinney pulled off this year.
“We had a lot of weight on our back and didn’t want to give up as many points, pass yards or running yards like we were earlier in district and you can see from the stats since we started doing that we are winning,” Shephard said. “They say defense wins championships, so it’s our job to keep playing hard as a unit and listening to our coaches.”