Viera's secondary is one of state’s best
Viera's secondary has accounted for 20 of the team's 23 interceptions this season. Pictured (from l-r) are Will Champion, Malek Folston, Trevor Merritt, defensive backs coach Marcus Menyfield, Jamyson Boyd, Evan Cruz and Ian Hubbard. Viera plays for the Class 7A state championship tonight.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
They may be the most dangerous unit on the Viera High football team … and we’re not talking about the offense.
Jamyson Boyd, Trevor Merritt, Evan Cruz, Malek Folston, Will Champion and Ian Hubbard make up a Hawks secondary that has accounted for 20 of the team’s 23 interceptions this season.
Tonight, in the Class 7A state championship game in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, the Hawks (10-4) are going to need another big game from their defensive backs if they’re going to upset St. Thomas Aquinas (12-1) and win the state title.
“St. Thomas has a very good receiving corps, probably one of the best we’ve seen this year from sideline to sideline,” Viera defensive backs coach Marcus Menyfield said. “For us, it will be a challenge we’re definitely looking forward to.”
The Hawks know all about challenges.
Last week, in the Class 7A state semifinal against Columbia, they played a team that featured a quarterback (Davin Schuck) who had thrown for more yards than anyone in the state. All the Hawks did was intercept Schuck four times – two by Boyd – on the way to a 42-23 victory that sent them to the state title game.
“They’ve been the leaders of the defense,” Hawks coach Kevin Mays said. “They’ve definitely been the vocal leaders.”
Cruz, Boyd and Merritt have been with Viera since they were freshmen. Champion transferred in from Satellite and Folston came to the Hawks after previously playing at Merritt Island.
The addition of Folston and Champion made an already good secondary one that many opposing coaches, like South Forke’s Mike Lavelle, have called “probably the best we’ve seen all season.”
Viera’s 23 interceptions are the fourth-highest total of any team in the state.
Boyd, so versatile he’s played every position except on the offensive and defensive line, has had one of the best seasons of any player in the state. Not only is he tied for second in Florida with nine interceptions, he’s also second on the team with 102 tackles and has one sack.
On top of that, he has scored three rushing touchdowns, caught two touchdown passes and returned a punt for a score.
In fact, when Columbia scored the game’s first touchdown last week, Boyd could be seen going up and down the sideline, encouraging his teammates.
“Jay’s our vocal guy on the team,” Mays said. “He’s not going to let guys not give their best effort, and he’s going to play hard for them.”
Though not as vocal as Boyd, Merritt is another team leader who has been called on to play offense at times, including last week when running back Brennen Deplancke went down with an ankle injury.
Merritt has three rushing touchdowns to go with his two interceptions – one of which he turned into a Pick Six – and made a big move late in the season, switching from cornerback to the Hawk position, a hybrid safety/linebacker position where his physicality and coverage skills are a perfect fit.
“For Trevor, it was one of those situations where, at first, he really didn’t want to go down into the box,” Menyfield said. “But once he got down there and was able to hit a little bit more and make plays out there being a DB in a linebacker’s world, it’s worked out for us.”
Cruz, whom Menyfield said had the “had the best footwork I’ve ever seen for a freshman in my life,” is also known for his ability to break on the ball. He had an interception and prevented a touchdown against Columbia with a big pass deflection.
“He’s the quiet general,” Mays said of Cruz. “He’s the guy that gets the calls and makes sure everyone’s on the same page. He’s the guy that keeps them straight.”
Champion, the only junior in this senior-laden group, has moved into the starting cornerback role, teaming with Folston to give the Hawks quite a tandem on the outside. Champion has three interceptions to go with a team-high 11 passes defensed while Folston has four picks, nine passes defensed and is also a top-notch punt returner.
“Malek’s a smaller guy who’s great as a man coverage guy,” Mays said “He brings a chip on his shoulder. He carries an edge about himself. Will’s a quiet killer. He doesn’t talk a bunch. He’s just going to do his job and do it well.”
Though he doesn’t start, Hubbard plays a vital role for the Hawks as well. Mays called him an “X-factor.”
“Ian’s a guy that comes in when we need a man coverage-type deal,” Mays said. “He can come in and play that man coverage. He’s the comedian of that group.”
Merritt and Boyd, who first met in seventh grade after Boyd moved here from South Carolina, have been close friends for the past five years.
Not only have they been there for their teammates, they’ve been there for each other. In fact, when they’re friendship is brought up, Boyd said of Merritt, “That’s my brother.”
“It’s been amazing, man,” Boyd said. “Even in times when you’re down, or you’re having issues outside of school, he was always there for me. I could always call him up any time of night. He’d answer the phone and he’d talk to me, let me know what’s going on. He always had my back. He’d always check up on me the next day at school.
“If I’m slacking out here, he’d always stay on my back. It’s like the big brother you never had. He’s always stayed on top of me and made sure I was working hard and doing what I had to do to get there. I can’t thank him for nothing more.”
Though they would love to keep playing together in college – they do each have an offer from FAMU and are hoping to get more – Friday night could be the last game they play together as teammates.
“Honestly, it hasn’t really hit us yet that it’s our last game,” Merritt said. “We’re looking at it as another game, another tough opponent. Our goal is to get a state (championship) ring.”
One thing the Viera coaching staff won’t have to worry about is whether or not this group will be prepared to play.
This is a group that’s been on point all season.
“I don’t have to worry about them looking at film because usually by the time I text them or talk to them on the weekend, they’re already letting me know about things they already saw,” Menyfield said.
On a team that has been special all season, Viera’s defensive backfield has been a special group.
That’s why tonight, win or lose, will be kind of bittersweet for the man who has coached them at Viera and has known some of them since they were barely old enough to strap on a helmet.
“It’s been a very special group,” Menyfield said. “I hate to see them go, but I’m proud of the men they’ve become.”