It is part motivation, part talent, part effort, part experience.
So far, it is all results for the Mentor Cardinals in the trenches on defense.
Mentor's defensive line is being compared to some of the best that have lined up for the Cardinals in recent memory, and that is certainly saying quite a bit when you consider the past player who have filled those spots.
Nico Lautanen, Billy Hudson, Trevor Morrison and Peter Kunka are a fearsome foursome and give the Mentor defense an imposing presence at the point of attack.
This group is as good as any we have had. They are big boys and can do a lot of good things, Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno said.
It is a big group and they have some size. The two inside guys and the two outside guys have been very consistent. We are good up front. . The guys up front make it easy because I think we can do some good things in all phases behind them. They continue to get better every week.
They ve got a shot to be pretty special up front and we have some good guys behind them. They work hard, they play hard.
Lautanen is a 6-foot-4, 275-pound Bowling Green recruit and Hudson (6-3, 290) complements him inside as a ferocious run stopper and aggressive pass rusher. Morrison (6-2, 250) is having an All-Ohio type of year after being moved to the outside and Kunka (6-3, 190) has emerged as a pleasant surprise at the opposite defensive end.
Mentor has allowed just 19 points over the past four games, and while talented at the linebacker position and in the secondary, it is the defensive line where all the trouble begin for the opposing offense.
The defensive line has accounted for 11 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, three recoveries and 34 pressures through six games.
We are able to do things with the linebackers and the secondary that makes it a lot easier. Those guys up front let us do things we want to do, Mentor defensive coordinator Jim Funk said.
These guys are relentless. It doesn t matter who the opponent is. They get after it.
Mentor has gotten after it on the defensive line for several years going back to Fred Hale, Brady DeMell, Tyler Koshiol, Ben Pike, Tom Strobel, Von Maddox and Kent Berger.
Being compared to some of the best front fours the Cardinals have put on the field is humbling and yet another motivation factor for Lautanen and his teammates on defense.
It is more of an honor when you think about the guys who have been here than anything else, Lautanen said. We try not to think of it, but there have been some great players here. We have a lot to live up to and we work hard every day to do that.
In the 2013 Division I state championship game against Cincinnati Moeller, the Cardinals gave up 55 points in a thrilling and classic loss to the Crusaders. Mentor has aspirations of returning to the title game and bringing home the team s first state football championship trophy.
Don t think for a second Morrison or the others have forgotten that cold afternoon at Fawcett Stadium a year ago.
Every week we work on goals and we work hard to get better, Morrison said. We keep that 55 in our mind and we use it as a chip on our shoulder.
Defensive line coach Bob Berwald said last year s front four with Berger and Maddox set the bar high, but this year s defensive line feeds off that experience and the unit is highly motivated outside of being extremely talented.
With the year we had last year, with the good and the bad, we have progressed a lot, Berwald said. We all have to buy in and be on the same page and be leaders on the field, not just the leadership from the coaches. They all understand what they want to accomplish.
Earlier in this year they tried to run at Trevor and Billy. Peter has come a long way and Nico has been dominant and has come a long way. . I have talked to some opposing coordinators and you look at it and think you can t run the ball inside so they test us outside, but we want to take that away. We want to be that dominant force. One of our strengths is we take teams out of their natural game plan.
I think we very well could be the best defensive line we have had, but it is a matter of how much they progress. We have to grow, we have to get better, but we have the potential to be the best when you look at us from inside out.
Hudson, who has had a 9-tackle game and is among the team leaders in sacks, isn t much for making big statements verbally as opposed to letting his play do all of his talking.
I think we came a lot further from last year. We have worked our butts off and we have come a long way, Hudson said.
I am just trying to do my job and make the team better. Every day, the coaches talk about it. We want to get better and make each other better up front. Kunka has been the biggest addition to the front four as the new guy who stepped forward in the offseason to fill a key role on the defensive line at end while the other three gained valuable experience a year ago.
Kunka also understands the position he plays at Mentor holds a lot of responsibility considering those who played there before him.
It is an amazing feeling. I respect and love every player who has come before me at this position and there is no other position on the field I would rather be, Kunka said.
I think we are a very driven team and we feed off each other. We feed off the others as far as experience and energy.