Much like the defensive line, Tahlequah has one solid edge with its linebackers.
Dylan Parish is the lone returning starter, but like Blake Corn at defensive end, he’s a premier name within the front seven of the Tigers’ 3-4 scheme.
Parish led the Tigers in total tackles as a junior with 97. He also posted eight tackles for losses, 3.5 quarterback sacks, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
He’s a consistent playmaker in the middle of the defense for head coach Brad Gilbert and defensive coordinator Keith Wilson.
“You have to start with Dylan Parish,” Gilbert said. “Dylan is a young man, in the mold of Blake, where they do everything the right way. He works his tail end off.”
Gilbert recalls a conversation with Wilson during Parish’s sophomore year. Gilbert thought at the time Parish had the makeup to become one of the top defenders he’s coached.
“I still remember calling Coach Wilson on a Saturday morning after Dylan’s first start against Fort Gibson his sophomore year. I said, ‘Dylan’s got a chance to be one of the best we’ve had since we’ve been here.’ You saw glimpses of it even though he was young in his first game. He had a lot of instinct, natural instinct. He had the ability to make plays.”
Parish recorded 10 tackles or better five times in 2018, including a season-high 14 against Skiatook in week five.
“Dylan’s been more than steady, he’s been that consistency within the defense that’s been very important for us,” Gilbert said. “Obviously this year we think he’s going to have another big year, if not even better than it’s been.
“He’s a tough, physical kid. He’s just blossomed over the last two years and you’ve really seen his communication as a linebacker develop. It’s been very fun to watch and a very important part of this football program.”
Tahlequah has holes to fill in the three other spots.
Gone are standout Cole Goodnight and Simon Escalera on the outside, and Parish’s partner in the middle, Zach Fuentes. Goodnight was the team leader in tackles for losses with 15 and also had three quarterback sacks and a pair of interceptions.
It’s a lot of productivity and experience that has departed.
But it’s nothing new, especially in the middle where Parish has had a different player lined up next to him over the last two seasons.
Last year it was Zach Fuentes, who was second on the team with 83 tackles.
“Every year, it seems like we have to find another one, and Coach Wilson does a great job with those inside linebackers,” Gilbert said. “Every year he has some guys ready to go. We’ve been fortunate to have Dylan for three years and that guy beside him has been different every year. Last year it was Zach Fuentes, this year it should be Angel Quezada.”
Angel Quezada logged 14 tackles in limited time as a sophomore in 2018, so he’s not entirely new when it comes to experience.
“He’s a smart, intelligent young man that saw some time last year,” Gilbert said. “He’s smaller but strong. He’s very compact and he’s a good kid. He really enjoys being apart of this football program, enjoys being with his teammates. We expect a lot of things from him.”
In the mix at the outside spots are junior Shaw Thornton, senior Tristan King and junior Carson Ferguson.
“This is the position when you look at our defense that we bring back the least amount of experience,” Gilbert said. “We have some depth, but that’s the biggest question mark we’ve got right now.
“Athletically, Tristan is a guy that’s got size, got speed and he’s physical. He’s learning the position because he hasn’t played a lot, but athletically he gives us what we need.
“Shaw is a very, very intelligent young man to the point where he understands what we expect of him. He’s rarely out of position. It will be his first year, but he played a little last year.”
“Carson brings a little experience from last season. He’s a tough physical kid that plays bigger than he is.”