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Rush Men

Dominique Bates, Staff Writer

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The defensive line is one of the most feared units in football.

Names like “The Steel Curtain”, “Fearsome Foursome”, and “Purple People Eaters”, have become household names.

It’s time to add another name to that list. “The Rush Men”.

“The Rush Men” are the defensive linemen for the Millikin football team.

They have not quite reached the success of the lines previously mentioned, but they are on their way. The Millikin football team has been very successful this season, putting up a regular season record of 7-3, and a conference record of 5-3; in a conference known for its toughness.

It’s no question that the offense has had a hand in that success, considering the records broken this year and the amount of points put on the scoreboard.

However, the defense has played a major role. The secondary has been solid, but it all starts up front. “We are the equation, and the DBs are the solution,” junior Rory Arnold said.

The “Rush Men” have struck fear in the hearts of quarterbacks in the CCIW.

This defensive unit has recorded at least one sack in eight of the nine games played so far this season. As a whole, the defense has 29 sacks for a loss of 178 yards on the season.

Defensive end, Gabe Xayathone has contributed quite a bit to that sack total with 5.5 sacks. Xayathone currently leads the team in that category, and he has a solid 29 tackles on the season. The talented junior wasn’t always a member of the defensive line. In fact, he made the switch from defensive back to defensive end last season. So far, the switch is paying off.

He isn’t the biggest guy, weighing only 190 pounds, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed.  Being one of the fastest guys on the team makes him a valuable addition to the defensive line.

But Xayathone has a lot of help. He provides plenty of speed, but guys like Quintaz Wright, Isaiah Blumenshine, and Davion Jefferson, provide the size factor. They aren’t just big; they are athletic, quick for their size, and agile. They may not be as fast as Xayathone, but they still make it difficult for quarterbacks to get past them.

It is made evident by their stat lines. Blumenshine leads the defensive line with 50 tackles, followed by Wright with 45. And Jefferson is not that far behind Xayathone’s 29 with 27 of his own.

Although those four are on the field most of the time as the first string players, the backup linemen play just as big of a role.

The defensive line runs deep. There are twelve guys waiting in the wings to hear their number get called. So, on Saturdays Rory Arnold, Failor, Jake Robinson, Alexzander Clark, Kyren Shell-Moore, Ryan Wimmer, Josh Belcher, Ethan Chavis, Dakota Youngwolfe, Kevin Graves, and Zion Perry suit up, ready to attack the quarterback. They all play a role in Millikin’s defensive success.

It doesn’t matter if they aren’t first string.

Take Belcher, for example. Belcher is the guy who always gives 110 percent. In practice, he is constantly pushing his body to the limit. He never gives up on a play, and he will fight and claw his way to sack the quarterback or block a punt. His 3 sacks are proof of that.

His teammates might sometimes laugh at him when he’s throwing his body on the turf, but they can attest to the fact that he always leaves it all on the field and makes his team better.

Even the players who do not start have made their mark. Failor has 2 sacks and a fumble recovery on the season, Robinson has half a sack and six tackles, Shell-Moore has tallied 8, Clark has 7, and Arnold has a few tackles as well. Having such depth has been beneficial to Millikin.

Their group chemistry only adds to the level of depth.

This makes sense considering four of them, Arnold, Failor, Xayathone, and Robinson, are roommates.

You have to be pretty close to share a toilet.

But they don’t have to live together to be close because they spend a lot of time together. They constantly hang out as a unit.

If they are together, they are bound to have a good time. Throughout the whole practice, they joke around and go over game strategies.

What has ultimately made the defensive line so successful has nothing to do with skill or one player in particular.

It is the fact that they play as a team. They win as a team, and they lose as a team.

If one player is struggling, the rest of the unit is there to pick them up. If someone makes a big play, they celebrate together.

“We celebrate as a team,” the defensive line said. “It’s never about one player.”

The backs of their black practice jerseys read, “Surrender the me for the we,” which is the motto they live by preaching togetherness has helped the Big Blue emerge as one of the top teams in the conference this season. Head coach Dan Gritti is the mastermind, having had a hand in most of the aspects of the game plan.

Because defense and special teams are his specialties, Gritti is always in the center of a group of black shirts. When the team ends a practice, each of the coaches gather their respective units, divided by like positions. When practice ends, the defensive linemen huddle up with Gritti, and he provides them with motivation and words of advice. When finished, they raise their fists in the air and call out “Rush men on three…1,2,3… Rushmen.”

The defensive unit has a long way to go, but they are on the right track.

Gritti believes in a three year process.

“You gotta be about the process,” Failor said.

Currently, they seem to be ahead of the curve. With Gritti at the helm and one year left in the three year process, the sky’s the limit. In football, family is usually a loose term, but Millikin’s defensive line takes it seriously.

They all have their own place. Wright is the loud one, who always has something to say. Graves is the funny one, Shell-Moore is intense, or reckless, as Wright would say, and Xayathone can be crazy at times. He slammed his head on a table at a recent team meal, and while most people would find this strange, to his teammates, it was consistent with his personality.

Though they all have their own unique personalities, their love for football and their competitiveness has molded them into one of the most feared defensive squads in the CCIW.

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