When you play on the Central football team, you don’t just earn a starting job over night. It takes time.
You have to wait your turn, while other older and more experienced players hold down the starting roles and then graduate to playing college football. During that time you’re waiting, you have to work your tail off to beat out the player next to you when that starting job does finally open up.
That’s what senior linebacker Jarious Upshaw has done over the past two seasons for the Red Devils. He may have been a key contributor on a number of other teams in the area, but on Central, he earned his opportunities on special teams and only in the occasional work on defense.
Until this year. In his final year with the team, he has stepped up and become a leader on a unit that has allowed only two touchdowns in its first two games. Coach Jamey DuBose said Upshaw has notched 15 or 16 tackles this year (“maybe more”), and has been a force in the front seven.
“He’s a guy who just played behind Toron Morten, who went to play in college, or Jacorey Jones, who was our leading tackler last year,” DuBose said. “Here at Central, sometimes you have to wait your turn. He did a great job of doing that, and working.”
Upshaw said, despite just becoming a starter this year, he has embraced a leadership role with the defense, showing the younger guys who it takes to become a starter and how to work to become a successful linebacker when it’s their turn.
He’s gotten faster and stronger, he said, and taken 13 years of instruction on technique at the position, one he’s played since he was 5 years old.
“I’ve always played linebacker,” he said. “My whole life.”
And the key for him this year, Upshaw said, has been the players around him.
“Everyone knows their assignments,” he said. “I trust my teammates. I know they’ve got their job, and I’ve got mine. We’re just taking care of business right now.”
DuBose said that having defensive coordinator Mark Hurt for back-to-back years now has been a blessing to the defense. This group of Red Devils had changed coordinators each of their first three seasons. This year, they are more familiar with terminology and scheme.
“Everything is the same one year to the next, so it makes it a little easier on the older guys,” DuBose said. That goes along with what Upshaw said about everyone knowing and taking care of their jobs.
Central has allowed 23 points over the first two weeks, all coming in the season-opening loss to Hoover. Hoover scored two touchdowns that game, both coming on short fields. Both Upshaw and DuBose said that the expectations for the unit going forward are high.
“Our goals are shutouts,” DuBose said. “Our goals are to be the best defense in the state of Alabama. We continue to work on that. We’ve got a good group of guys. Our speed up front has been our equalizer. The difference in us this year is that we’re a little quicker up front. I always say, if you can get lined up then you can play. Right now, we’re doing a good job of getting lined up.”
The defense will be tested again on Friday, when the Red Devils host Auburn at Garrett-Harrison Stadium to open region play.