With only three starters returning from last year’s 10-1 team, the theme for this season’s Manhattan High football team thus far has been inexperience.
But when it comes to the defensive line, that mold doesn’t fit.
Led by Chris Hudgins and Brandon Velez, one of the three returners, the defensive line has set the tone for the Indians through four games this year.
“They do have some varsity experience from years past,” head coach Joe Schartz said. “Brandon was a starter for us every game last year at right tackle on the offensive line, and Chris had opportunities to play defensive line last year, so it’s important that they have that experience out there, not only for themselves but for the entire defensive unit.”
Schartz couldn’t be happier for the two of them as they lead a defense that is young at the linebacker spots and has plugged in some transfers in the secondary.
“They both have worked extremely hard in the weight room to develop themselves,” he said. “I’m just happy to see them have the opportunity in their senior year to not only contribute but really to lead the defense.”
The Manhattan rush defense has been solid all year, giving up 166 yards per game this season. In the Centennial League, only Topeka High (78) and Shawnee Heights (139) have fared better through four games. Much of the credit for stopping the run goes to Hudgins and Velez.
“They’re both very good athletes,” Schartz said. “With both of those two, speed is a big part of their game. They both have good 40 times for their size and they’re both real quick. They’re tremendous athletes and tremendous individuals.”
Both have proved to be versatile this year as well.
In goal-line situations on offense, both Velez and Hudgins line up in the backfield in a formation designed to barrel into the end zone. So far, each has scored a 1-yard touchdown.
Hudgins also handles a majority of the kickoffs for the Indians.
For Velez, who moved to defense from the offensive line, the transition has been painless.
“It has been, just because of his athleticism,” Schartz said of the smooth transition. “He’s got the nice frame for the defensive line. He can use those long arms for leverage and when he sees the football he’s able to go make a tackle.”
Another big part of the pair’s leadership comes from putting in the time over the years, whether it’s on the practice field or in the weight room.
“Their teammates respect them— what they do on the field as well as what they do in the classroom and in the weight room,” Schartz said. “They’re just good kids and they’re fun to be around.”
With Topeka West as the opponent tonight, the Indians should have another good game stopping the run. In a loss to Washburn Rural, which so far has the third-worst defense in the league, the Chargers were only able to gain 84 yards on the ground and 26 through the air.
Those stats bode well for Hudgins and Velez, who should have advantages in both athleticism and quickness when they swarm the running attack of the Chargers.