TANNER — Sitting in front of a projection screen in Tanner High’s field house, Thomas Harris often realizes there is a new love in his life.
Actually, there are 11 — all clad in green and grey uniforms.
Meet Tanner’s defense: Harris’ favorite Friday night date.
“It’s like I tell the guys every week: ‘I’m falling in love. I’m falling in love,’ ” said Harris, who along with Bobby Earl Greene, serves as Tanner’s co-defensive coordinator.
Harris’ affection is warranted. With big plays and suffocating ways, Tanner’s defense makes days at the office enjoyable, if you’re a Tanner supporter, of course.
Tanner has dominated opponents in the postseason, breezing into the Class 2A semifinals. The top-ranked Rattlers (12-0) travel to No. 3 Reeltown (12-1) Friday night, the winner securing a spot in the state title game.
For Tanner, a fast, talent-rich defense has been the blueprint for success. This Tanner defense already has etched its name into history as one of the most dominant in program history. The Rattlers have won their three postseason games by shutout. The unit has five shutouts on the season and held opponents to 6 points per game.
It’s a statistic that surprises no one on Tanner’s coaching staff.
“These guys are very easy to coach,” said Harris, a former Hazlewood High standout who has served as a Tanner assistant for the past 10 seasons. “They kind of take on our persona. Like us, they’re not a lot of rah-rah guys. They’re more about taking care of business and doing their jobs the right way.”
Harris has the personality of Tanner’s defense pegged.
As a whole, the group is stoic. Some appear almost robotic, focused solely on preparation for the next task at hand.
“I feel like we’re a pretty focused group,” said linebacker Dexter Douglas, who leads Tanner with 65 tackles. “Our focus and determination, in a way, is our swagger. Everyone who plays on that side of the ball, we all take pride in what we do. We take pride in getting around the ball and making big plays.”
Talent is a major component. Tanner’s defensive lineup is loaded with big, fast playmakers.
Linebacker Fred Rich and safety Greg Maclin are UAB commitments, while Tanner’s coaching staff expects Douglas and defensive end Kyle Shoulders — and possibly a few others — to receive college offers in the near future.
But as Harris pointed out, there’s another ingredient that makes the Rattlers’ venomous defensive recipe work:
“All of them are very receptive guys,” Harris said. “It’s a combination of talent and smarts — having an understanding of what their jobs are, and having the natural ability to go out there and make plays.”
Attention to detail is important.
Weekly game plans begin in the film room with Greene, Harris and head coach Laron White. Opponents’ tendencies are broken down, and a strategy that caters to Tanner’s strengths is pieced together.
Then the real work begins. Tanner’s defensive coordinators review film with the players, and those teaching points are taken to the practice field.
“Our coaches watch a lot of film,” Shoulders said. “They notice things that we wouldn’t and find ways to put us into position to make plays. It’s our job to go out and execute the plan.”
“They’re all about the details, and they do a good job of making sure we understand what they’re showing us,” he said. “It all starts with preparation and ends with us going out and doing our jobs.”
Harris said he isn’t surprised by the success Tanner’s defense has enjoyed.
“It’s a really good group of players,” he said. “But more importantly, we have guys who are more willing to play their roles correctly instead of being stars. It’s like we always tell them: Pretty stats might look good in a boxscore, but they don’t always equal wins. Doing your job correctly and playing for the team is what wins championships.”
Based on the unified message from the players, the Rattlers have bought into the mantra.
“It’s a mentality thing,” Douglas said. “Right now, we’ve got a team full of guys who take a lot of pride in doing things the right way. It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of something special like this."