It’s like a boxing or WWE championship belt, except the center has a circular Southeast Seminoles logo. The words “Big Baller” are in capital letters above the center logo in a blue strip.
The phrase is completed with, “Football,” written in all caps along the bottom of the Noles logo.
An orange outer strip completes the center of the black belt, which also has square boxes to the left and right that are blue with smaller orange squares inside them.
On those orange squares are the opponents for Southeast’s football team this season, and a different player is listed next to the games already completed.
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They are the defensive player of the week, which is earned through a team vote. The winner earns that championship belt for the upcoming week, wearing it along with a sleeve on game day before someone else gets it the next week.
“The kids love those things,” Southeast head coach Rashad West said. “They watch TV, they see all the different schools doing things for turnovers and big hits and player of the week. So (defensive coordinator) Coach (Cody) Montgomery came up with the idea of the belt. ... What it brings is competitiveness, because people want to be singled out.”
Added junior linebacker Brandon Shannon: “It’s something we can work for, so it’s always good for someone to achieve.”
Shannon, a 2016 Bradenton Herald All-Area first-team selection on defense, received the championship belt this week.
Also part of the spoils for earning defensive player of the week honors is a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings off Cortez Road and U.S. 41, along with coaches and the offensive player of the week.
“They feed them and we go over on Tuesday,” West said. “Meal: wings, fries and a drink for the offense/defense player of the week. We rotate which coaches will take them. ... We get a helmet out of the case, take a picture and try to announce it on social media. It’s good. It doesn’t cost them a ton and it’s good for our kids that we can do something for them.”
Southeast’s defense, coupled with an efficient offense and strong special teams play, is a big reason the Noles have matched last season’s win total with their 4-0 start.
Despite returning only four starters from the 2016 team, the defense has played lights out, punishing opposing offenses as a turnover-creating machine.
Through four games, Southeast has six interceptions and five fumble recoveries. The first-team defense isn’t getting scored on much, either – that group has allowed 10.75 points per game.
The defense faced its biggest challenge to date last week with Cardinal Mooney running back Bryce Williams. The unit limited the University of Minnesota commit to 76 rushing yards on 14 carries before the last couple drives, and Williams’ total was buoyed by a 53-yard touchdown run.
This week’s test is Englewood Lemon Bay quarterback Hayden Wolff, a three-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Wolff has a Kentucky offer and is garnering interest from Florida and Michigan State, according to 247Sports.
Getting past the Manta Rays would set up an Oct. 20 matchup at Wauchula Hardee with the district title likely on the line.
But to even consider that, the defense needed to fulfill offseason expectations.
“They are playing really well,” West said. “But they’re playing like we thought, because we thought we would have a good defense as a whole and not just have to rely on splash plays by certain individuals.”
There are standout players throughout the defense with returners such as Shannon (35 tackles, seven for a loss) and Teriq Houston (18 tackles, 8 1/2 for a loss, four sacks, seven hurries) and newcomers such as Kam’ron Green, who was needed on the offensive line last year before moving to his more natural defensive end position this year. Green was Southeast’s defensive player of the week following a district victory over Arcadia DeSoto. He has 19 tackles this year and leads the team with 9 1/2 tackles for a loss, nine hurries and five sacks. Southeast has 14 sacks.
D.J. Bryant, who was the team’s top defender for the Kickoff Classic win against Ruskin Lennard, is the team’s second-leading tackler with 32.
Damon Poole, a cousin of the Atlanta Falcons’ Brian Poole, leads the team with five passes defended. Shannon and Damien Washington are next with four apiece.
“Everyone’s trying to get to the ball,” said senior linebacker Cesar Monsivais, who has 21 tackles and five for a loss this year. “Eleven men to the ball. That’s how coach tells us to do (it).”
Week 8 schedule
Bradenton Christian at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Cardinal Mooney at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7 p.m.
Wauchula Hardee at Bayshore, 7:30 p.m.
Kennedy Catholic (Somers, N.Y.) at Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.
Braden River at Sarasota, 7:30 p.m.
Lakewood Ranch at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.
Manatee at Sarasota Riverview, 7:30 p.m.
Englewood Lemon Bay at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.