Football preview: Union's secondary is primary

Fast safeties can play like linebackers on Titans defense

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter


photoUnion's Gabe Rego on defense during a recent practice.

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Union Titans

Coach: Cale Piland

2010: 7-3, 3-1 4A GSHL.

Key players: Bryson Page, sr., ol-dl; D.J. Anderson, sr., ol-dl; Matt Smith, sr., ol-dl; Phil Westphal, sr., ol-dl; Kaben Humphrey-Butler, sr., qb; Tanner Nelson, sr., wr-db; A.J. Anderson, sr., rb-db; Brandon Brody-Heim, sr., rb-lb; Gabe Rego, sr., wr-db; Trent Cowan, jr., wr-db; Treve’ Ensley, jr., wr-db; Ryan Stanford, sr., rb-lb; Brock Sparks, sr., rb-lb; Matt Reeves, jr., te-lb; Jake Hawken, so., te/lb; Patrick Figueroa, jr., wr-lb.

Season Outlook: Humphrey-Butler, a D-I recruit, is primed for a big year. Brody-Heim is bigger and stronger. Expectations have not changed around Union. That means this team is built for a long playoff run.


Sept. 2 at Bothell

Sept. 9 at Enumclaw

Sept. 15 Westview

Sept. 23 at Kelso

Sept. 30 Mountain View

Oct. 7 Heritage

Oct. 13 at Battle Ground

Oct. 21 Evergreen

Oct. 28 at Skyview

Home games played at McKenzie Stadium

Union seniors Tanner Nelson and Gabe Rego do not differentiate between free safety and strong safety.

Both are capable of lining up close to the line of scrimmage or deep in coverage, able to do anything the position requires.

Treve’ Ensley is one of a host of cornerbacks for the Titans, excited to be part of a talented group of defensive backs.

“It’s all about DB love,” Rego said. “When we’re in the huddle, ‘DB love!’ ”

As usual, expectations are high as the Titans enter the 2011 high school football season. Union reached the Class 3A state championship game in 2008, played in the semifinals in 2009, and then finished second in the 4A Greater St. Helens League last year.

What might be unusual is having the secondary as the leader of the defense. But Nelson is a three-year starter. Rego has a linebacker’s mentality. And all those cornerbacks can play.

The group is led by Nelson and Rego.

“Our defense is predicated on having safeties who are fast enough for coverage, but physical enough to play like a linebacker,” Union coach Cale Piland said. “We’re happy when we have one of those guys. This year, we have two. They easily could be linebackers, but they’re athletic enough to play at safety. It’s reassuring to have that kind of physicality on the field.”

Nelson said he likes filling in to support the run defense, “but it’s also nice to get some picks and make some plays,” he said.

Rego prefers the crunch plays.

“I like throwing down the hammer,” he said.

The two worked out side-by-side all summer.

“We challenged each other,” Rego said. “While lifting weights, we’d say, ‘This kid is going to beat you. You gotta lift more than that or this kid is going to beat you.’ ”

All the DBs also worked on their communication, taking advantage of the 7-on-7 drills to prepare.

Ensley, a junior, said he was not so sure at first that the group would excel. Now he is.

“We really developed over the summer, working together,” he said.

Speaking of communication, Ensley also said he “likes talking trash to the receivers” in practice. He promised it was “all in fun.”

No matter how strong the secondary, there will be times when defensive backs will appear exposed. That is part of the game.

The Titans will look for Nelson for leadership.

“I’ll try to keep the mood light,” he said. “The harder you work, the less likely those (bad) plays will happen. If you work hard and if a mistake like that happens, you can be OK with it. But if you start being lazy and it happens, that’s unacceptable.”

These Titans also know if they perform to their abilities, the team will have a shot to go a long way again.

“The dome,” Ensley said, referring to the Tacoma Dome, home of the state championship game.

“The dome,” Nelson added.

“The road to the dome,” Rego said.

See, they really are working together.