It's no secret that the Manatee Hurricanes bookend one of the best defensive fronts in school history. Afterall, the edge rush tandem of senior defensive ends Blake Keller and Marquis Dawsey produced 28 sacks between the two of them in 2011.
What is probably much less known is the painstaking preparation that goes into every game, every possession, every snap.
"They already know their first three rushes before any game," defensive line coach Steve Gulash said.
Gulash, now in his sixth year coaching the defensive line, plans out a very specific pass rush for his ends to use in each game against a particular blocker. Phrases like, "Toe touching toe - power and go" or "Vertical-low, rip and go" are common in Gulash's vernacular.
Every coach breaks down game film on their opponent. Gulash takes it one step further. Gulash is focused on the individual his lineman is going to be up against. The defensive line coach said he went over film of no less than five games from Miami Central's 2012 and 2011 season, trying to find weaknesses in the offensive linemen.
He scrutinized the play of Miami Central's junior offensive lineman Michael Smith, a 6-foot-3-inch 294-pound left tackle that might seem a mismatch for the 6-foot-2-inch 222-pound Keller. Gulash, however, discovered something that he thought would give Keller the edge, literally.
"We found that every time the kid (Smith) would take a step back in pass coverage, his feet would close together instead of that shuffle-step that you see from the NFL guys," Gulash said. "We took the video with a stopwatch and timed how long it took before he (Smith) put his feet together."
When your feet are together, you do not have a strong base. Gulash timed out that in 1.5 seconds, Smith would have his feet together. At that instant, Keller should give him a power rush: "Touching toe - power and go."
This is just one example of how prepared these Manatee defensive linemen, ends in particular, are prepared for any given game.
"I don't teach football on Fridays," Gulash said. "I coach Monday through Thursday, by Friday they know and they are prepared to walk out on that field."
Keller is speed rush guy with, "that get-off and body lean", while Dawsey has, "the quickest hands." But neither one seemed a likely candidate for defensive end as freshman, Gulash said.
"I remember Blake as a freshman had such a strong body lean that he'd sometimes fall down on his side," Gulash said. "I saw it as a natural talent for the position and kept him on at defensive end."
Keller has amassed 22.5 sacks in now his third year starting at defensive end.
Dawsey started off in a similarly frustrating way.
"After the first week of practice, Dawsey wanted to go back down to JV and work as a linebacker," Gulash recalled. "I told him to just give me one week and I would convince him to stay on Varisty and on the defensive line."
Dawsey stayed and started every game since his freshman year, compiling 29.5 sacks in his high school career, so far.
Neither athlete is your prototypical 6-foot-4-inch, 255-pounder. However, Gulash points out that neither of them is finished growing and that what they lack in size they make up for in physical talent and mental acumen.
"These kids process everything so fast," Gulash said. "They've mastered techniques that you only see in Division 1 and the NFL."
Keller has already committed to play at UCF next season, while Dawsey still entertains several Division 2 offers. However, Gulash said, Dawsey impressed USF coaches at a recent camp and he is confident the Bulls could make him an offer.