Mules turn thoroughbred

Muleshoe’s defense is allowing an average of 154 yards per game. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By John Eisler: CNJ sports writer

MULESHOE — Muleshoe coach David Wood said he may have had a defense as good as this year’s, but not one that was faster.

With a swarming mentality and speed at every position, the Mules have one of the top Class 3A defenses in the South Plains.

Led by senior linebacker Juan Nunez, the Mules (5-1) are limiting opponents to 154 yards and 6.3 points a game.

“People want to get there, people want to make plays and everybody wants to do things right,” said Nunez, who leads the team with 64 tackles, including 31 solos.

Since Wood arrived at Muleshoe nine years ago the program has prided itself on playing good defense.

“I think it’s just a mentality we have here in Muleshoe that you want to be on that defensive squad, that’s the pride of what we do and to be on it they work twice as hard to get on it,” Wood said. “There’s no question our defense is what people look at.”

Wood said the average speed of the two-deep defense is 4.86 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Usually, it’s over five seconds, Wood said.

“It’s just incredible,” Wood said. “We’ve had some quick kids before, but not all 11 being quick.”

Wood said the team speed has allowed the Mules to take chances with blitzes, stunts and irregular defensive lineups they wouldn’t work with a slower team for fear of being burned on the play. Even if an opponent were to take advantage of a risky play, Wood said the Mules’ speed would likely mean only a first down as opposed to a touchdown.

“The percentage of something huge happening for us is greater than the percentage of something huge happening for them,” Wood said.
The speed helps make up for a lack of size.

A few years ago, Muleshoe’s defensive line averaged 240 or 250 pounds. The heaviest player on the Mules’ starting 11 is Nunez at 215 pounds and he plays linebacker in the team’s split-six, which takes advantage of that speed. The split-six has four linebackers and four down lineman, allowing more room to run, according to Wood.

Nunez could play either lineman or defensive back for the Mules because of his size and speed, according to Wood, and could handle either the opponent’s offensive lineman or wide receiver.

Wood said the outside linebackers can shift seamlessly from passing plays, which they see a lot of facing spread offenses, to running plays.

“As quick as we are, the running lanes shut down pretty quickly when they try to run the ball against us,” Wood said.

But preparation has played just as big a role as talent.

Senior defensive end Kory Atwood said coaches always have them prepared for Friday night, with the fullest respect for the opposing offense, while coaches said players quickly pick up everything they’re trying to teach.

“You don’t have to spend all that time repping it because they already know what to do,” Wood said. “You just have to spend your time perfecting it.”
Defensive coordinator Kodi Crane said despite the impressive numbers so far this season, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“We understand to be at the end of the season where we want to get to, we gotta keep getting better,” Crane said.