October 5, 2018

Mentor Linebackers

The philosopher Aristotle is credited with coining the phrase - "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

The message about synergy and teamwork applies perfectly to the linebacker unit on the Mentor defense.

As individual parts, each of the five Cardinals linebackers in the rotation have plenty of talent and a unique skill set that allows them to be impact players. However, as a whole, they make up a group that is a key component on one of the top defenses in Northeast Ohio.

"We are going to go as far on defense as our linebackers take us," Mentor defensive coordinator Jim Funk said. "The guys up front get a lot of credit and headlines, and deservedly so, and the guys in the secondary are doing a great job as well, no doubt. But this group of linebackers is so versatile and interchangeable it allows us to do a lot of different things on defense this season."

Seniors Dan Adams and Brady Benz are returning starters and captains. Adams leads the team in tackles at inside linebacker in the 3-4 and Benz is big-time playmaker at outside linebacker, who can play a multitude of styles.

Senior Gage Tripodo is 6-foot, 185 pounds, but Funk said he plays much bigger than his size and is very capable of covering receivers.

Juniors Kyle Bischof and Jackson Paglio will be back in 2019 as leaders of the defensive unit, but they are by no means looking past 2018. Bischof, whose brother Ryan was a very talented defensive player for Mentor, is a physical type who can play up near the line of scrimmage as well as in space. Paglio was a defensive back last year, but has been moved up to linebacker and is another versatile talent with the ability to move around to different positions on the field.

"All of these guys can run and they are very versatile which is huge at that position. It is a really good group," Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno said.

"Sometimes, they get overlooked because of some of our other guys, but they are doing a great job of getting after it and we couldn't be where we are on defense without them."

Since allowing 39 in a season-opening win over St. Edward, the Cardinals have allowed 65 points over the past five games.

Adams said having five guys who can all bring different talents to the field has allowed the unit to work well with each other and with the other members of the defense.

"We have the physical tools and we can all run, and I think we play well off each other and know exactly what to do on each play," Adams said. "It certainly helps to have those guys on the defensive line playing as well as they are playing and the secondary has been great, too. Overall, we work well as a team."

Paglio said learning from the upperclassmen - Adams, Benz and Tripodo - has helped him not only with the physical Xs and Os of playing linebacker, but the mental side of it as well.

"I think they have really helped me learn to not be so tough on myself if I make a mistake and just move on and make the next play," Paglio said. "We are all good friends and it helps during the games to communicate."

The communication has been just fine as the defense has helped Mentor to a 6-0 start, a No. 2 ranking in the Division I state poll and the No. 2 seed in the  latest Region 1 computer ratings.

Despite having seen and handled such high-powered offenses as St. Ignatius, Glenville and Strongsville, Tripodo said that doesn't mean the Cardinals are about to relax or feel comfortable.

"No, we don't feel like we have seen it all or like we don't need to be prepared for these other teams because they can always step up and play their best game if you aren't ready. We aren't going to let that happen," Tripodo said.

"I don't think there is a ceiling for this defense. We can be as good as we want."

Bischof said despite the success of the first six weeks of the season, there is still plenty for the linebacker corps - and the defense as a whole - to aim for the remainder of the season.

"I don't think we have played our absolute best yet and that we have plenty of room to improve," Bischof said. "We are all driven to get back to the state title game and win the whole thing and we believe we have the ability to shut teams out on any given night and strive to be the best defense in the entire state."

Benz, who was injured and missed the state championship game loss to Pickerington Central in 2017, said the goal is still to bring Mentor its first-ever state title in football and that there is plenty of reason to believe this defense is good enough to put the Cardinals in that position come early December.

As a senior captain, Benz said he has a responsibility not only to make plays, butto set an example and be a leader as well. Something both Trivisonno and Funk said the importance of which can not be downplayed.

"I think part of my job is to make sure the guys are in the right spots and we are all on the same page, because when we are this group can be very good," Benz said.

"Last year was last year, and it stunk the way it ended, but it is motivation for all of us. We know what kind of defense we can be, we just have to keep working every day to get better and never let down."
-Bill Tilton