EAST MANATEE -- They don't possess the flashy stats, but it's a group integral for the entire defense's success each Friday night.
Simply put, without the defensive line generating pressure on opposing offenses, then Braden River's gaudy interception tally (27 for the season and seven in three playoff games) or the success rate the linebackers have had this season in stopping the run, might be for naught.
So meet 6-foot-2, 240-pound Dylan Tyson, 6-foot-4, 290-pound DeQwunn McCobb, 5-foot-9, 180-pound Paul Wiggins and 5-foot-9, 190-pound Chase Knopf.
They're the guys responsible for forcing opposing quarterbacks into ill-timed decisions, while providing support in preventing big-time rushing games.
"Our linebackers show us love after games and during practices," said Tyson, who has 2- 1/2 sacks this season. "... You see Chase and Paul just because the fact that they're a lot quicker, they're able to chase down the quarterback. But you don't hear DeQwunn's name a lot, you don't hear my name a lot and it's, actually, I've been OK with that. Just the fact that I know it can't happen without us. It starts up front and it ends up front."
This week's opponent, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, presents the biggest test to date for Braden River and its defensive line. The Raiders have tallied more than 250 rushing yards in each playoff victory, while Braden River has allowed just 265 rushing yards combined over three postseason wins.
"I've been here all four years, and it's basically been different defensive linemen with me every single year," Tyson said. "And this is easily the best group I've been with in that they all want the same thing, and that's to get out and win. Don't care how we do it, don't care if it's 3-0. They want to go out and win."
In last week's regional final, the Pirates fell behind 7-0 after the first quarter. They took a narrow 10-7 advantage into halftime. Then, in the second half, head coach Curt
Bradley told his players that they had weathered the storm.
"I'm hungry, coach," Tyson said that night.
The senior was one piece to the D-line that constantly pressured Plant City quarterback Corey King.
King was harassed so much that his scrambling from the pocket either led to a Braden River linebacker recording a sack, an interception thrown or several incompletions.
"After those first few drives, I don't think they had significant drive other than the start of the second half. ... Those guys did a good job keying. They don't fill up the stat sheet ... but they occupy a lot of linemen and let our linebackers run free."
In the Braden River three-five scheme, Tyson plays strong end, McCobb plays the nose tackle and Wiggins and Knopf split time at the weak end position.
"We have fun on the football field," Tyson said. "You look at us coming off and going onto the field, we have smiles on our face. I think just the group together, we enjoy each other, we love being out here together and once it's game time, you basically get to see how much hard work you've put in during the week and it just pays off."
Tyson is the lone senior of the group. McCobb and Wiggins are juniors and Knopf is a sophomore.
Wiggins and Knopf are in their first seasons at Braden River after transferring from Palmetto, while McCobb is also playing his first season with the Pirates. Last year, he didn't see any game action. This year, McCobb became the starting nose tackle when defensive lineman Michael Walker switched over to playing offensive line full time.
"I felt I was very prepared," said McCobb, who has three sacks. "Even though I wasn't starting, my coaches took time out to give me reps. ... So I felt like when it was time for me to step up, it wasn't anything new to me at the time."
While there's still work ahead to get the Pirates into their first state championship game by eliminating state behemoth St. Thomas Aquinas, the Braden River defensive line is still cherishing how far they've come in such a short time frame.
"Going from 1-9 to 5-4 and it's gradually just been getting better and better," Tyson said. "And I would have never pictured us in a state final four, even a year ago."
"It's a wonderful feeling," said Wiggins, who leads the team with five sacks. "I've never been past the first round, so to make it to the fourth round, it feels great."
Leaning on each other, though, is what's shaped the ride thus far. And there's still two more steps left in the road to Orlando for a state title.
"This is a special group of boys that came out last year and did what they did last year, coming over here and just stepping up with them," said Knopf, who has 2 1/2 sacks. "Playing to our ability, trying to make a run for state."