By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Shane Marshall and Kurt Johnson
It’s finally Gabe Reid’s turn to lead.
So much of the attention on the two-time champion Timpview High football team during the 2012 and 2013 football seasons went to a pair of dynamic quarterbacks. First, there was the passing of Jake Lloyd and now it is the energy and elusiveness of Britain Covey. It’s hard to watch a Thunderbird game in 2014 without anticipating what Covey will do next.
But, while the offense has certainly deserved the praise it has received, a second look at the 2012 and 2013 championship games tells another story as well – that of a strong commitment to defense that has propelled Timpview back to the top in 4A football.
Lloyd and his receivers pulled off some amazing plays in the double-overtime title game victory against Mountain Crest in 2012, but the game was ultimately decided when Pita Taumoepenu delivered back-to-back sacks in the second extra session. Those were his 24th and 25th sacks in an amazing season.
Taumoepenu graduated and moved on to the University of Utah, where he is still terrorizing quarterbacks, but 2013 brought the arrival of Isaiah Nacua, a senior Division I talent who moved in from Las Vegas. He joined a defense that already returned senior stars Pio Stowers and Emmett Tela, and the unit wreaked havoc.
Covey was an amazing story in the team’s upset of East in the 2013 state championship game, but it was the defense that got things going. With the T-Birds struggling to move the football, East jumped to a quick lead as it dominated the line of scrimmage early. Then, Nacua made a game-changing play, a sack that led to a fumble that he recovered, delivering the Timpview offense a very short field that led to its first points.
After halftime adjustments kicked in, that version of the Thunderbird defense throttled the Leopards after intermission, and with the game on the line, a player who had been there all along announced his presence as the leader of the Timpview defense. Junior defensive end Gabe Reid came off the edge on a fourth-and-long and sacked East quarterback Isaac Valles to seal the team’s second consecutive state title.
“I love hitting quarterbacks,” Reid said. “I knew we had one down left, and if we got the stop, game over and state championship. I didn’t even get touched. I just went directly in and hit the quarterback.”
Three Defensive Cornerstones
Taumoepenu and Nacua were great players, but as they have moved on, it is the player on the other end of the defensive line who has remained an anchor to the Timpview defense. Reid had nine sacks as a sophomore starter in 2012 and 15-1/2 sacks in 2013 as a junior, so while the Thunderbirds graduated eight starters from last year’s team, head coach Cary Whittingham knew his defense was in good hands for this season.
“We only had three returning starters,” Whittingham said, “but we had a good kid returning at each level – a D-end, a linebacker and a DB, so we were able to build around that. We got some good kids that have stepped up. They’re hard workers that buy into the system. It’s fortunately a reload. I think the defense is really good, we’ve reloaded.”
Those three returning leaders – Reid, linebacker Kainoa Tu’ua and cornerback Isaiah Holloway – are all three-year starters who have led the way in keeping defense as a staple at Timpview.
“We have a lot of good players on our defense, but I think we have a leader in each position group – me, Kainoa Tu’ua and Isaiah Holloway have all started since we were sophomores,” Reid said. “Isaiah’s kind of the leader of the DBs, and we have Kainoa with the linebackers and I like to think of myself as the leader of the D-line.”
That leadership propelled the Thunderbirds to an unbeaten run through the regular season and give the team a chance to make it three titles in a row. The key to this defensive unit may be in its balance. There’s not a 25-sack guy out there, but there a lot of players contributing in both run and pass defense.
“I think we’re one unit and we play together really well,” Reid said. “Everybody does their assignments and we just work well as a team. We make plays and we’re aggressive and we’re intense. Isaiah (Nacua) is a great player. He definitely took a lot of attention away from me as far as blocking schemes go. This year we have a great D-line too. If you look at our stats, we have a lot of sacks spread out and so I think it’s really hard to defend us. You can’t just focus on one D-lineman because we have so many good players.”
That defensive line features two other seniors who disrupt games in their own ways. Devin Kaufusi is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound force on the other end of the line and this year’s new move-in came from California. Scott Foley is a 6-4, 275-pound defensive tackle who takes up space in the running game. Foley, however, is not content to leave the pass rushing to the guys on the edge as he also has 8-1/2 sacks from his position in the interior of that defensive line.
The things that have made Timpview a force for more than a decade continue to keep the program in its place among the best in the state, and those things start at the top. Whittingham ran the defense before taking the head coaching job for the 2012 campaign, and while tweaking a few things to fit his own style, he recognizes how to take advantage of what’s already working.
“We wanted to maintain some of what has been done under Coach Van Orden and then Coach Wong,” Whittingham said. “We tried to maintain some of that consistency, as far as the system. Everybody adds their own little spins to it, and hopefully that adds to it, but one thing that’s really helped is the coaching staff is largely intact the last eight years. With those guys still on board, it’s a good situation for a coach to be in. Things were being done right before, so I don’t need to change too much.”
The Timpview defensive philosophy starts with speed, but that doesn’t mean the T-Birds shy away from contact.
“(We) find kids with speed,” Whittingham said. “Put kids with speed on the field and physical inside players and from there, try to be as physical as possible, punish offenses and be very aggressive, whether with the particular kids on the field or with the way we call it.”
The coach sees Reid as a player who epitomizes the program’s hopes for its defense.
“He’s very explosive and disruptive,” Whittingham said. “He fits the mold of what we trying to do, great speed and violence.”
While Reid, Tu’ua and Holloway have their chance to lead in 2014, they also have an opportunity to pass along something to the next group of defensive stars, players like junior linebackers Branson Brotherson and Nate Richardson.
“I think honestly there’s a mindset,” Reid said. “The underclassmen come in and they see these older guys winning state championships, playing well and being really successful. The coaches bring it up. When I was a sophomore, they told me I was going to have to play like I was a senior. That’s what we stand for, just balling out. We are about winning games.”