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December 6, 2011

Don Bosco defined by defense

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - No program in the country has enjoyed the run of success that Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco has experienced the past three years.

It won a RivalsHigh 100 National Championship in 2009, finished No. 6 in 2010, and currently sits at No. 2 - and in the discussion with Louisville (Ky.) Trinity for the top spot.

Picking a winner among the two is tough. RivalsHigh - as have most of the nationally recognized rankings - have flipped between the two this season.

Now, with each school having completed a perfect season, we take a closer look at both, starting with Don Bosco and its amazing defense.

Three-year runs of greatness is not unusual in the high school game. But most often, such runs are anchored by an unstoppable offensive superstar.

That's not the case at Bosco, which has had a different leading rusher and a different leading quarterback-to-wide receiver combination the past three years.

In fact, the 2009 team lost almost all of its top-flight players entering the 2010 campaign.

The program's constant, however, has been its defense.

Under the tutelage of National Coach of the Year finalist, and the man who built the program into a national power, Greg Toal, the defense may be the best in all of high school football.

It certainly was impressive in the team's 42-14 win in the Non-Public Group IV finals over Oradel (N.J.) Bergen Catholic where it forced five interceptions and eight sacks.

"I think that defensive line was pretty damn good," Toal said after the game. "I wouldn't want to have to coach against them."

The group was led by five-star defensive end Darius Hamilton, who accounted for four sacks and consistent quarterback pressure.

"We made big plays out there," Hamilton said. "Our defense was really active."

The defense is as good as it gets. We've seen in person some of the best defensive efforts turned in by some of the top teams in the nation and none can compare to the combination of speed and depth of the Ironmen, seemingly equally skilled on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.

Hamilton, rated as the No. 5 overall player in the country, leads the way. He has drawn rave reviews from Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

"Hamilton is simply impossible to stop," he said. "He's the guy that makes everyone else on defense look so good."

It is not hard to make the rest of the group look good. The supporting cast would be superstars on most every other team in the country.

Yuri Wright is a four-star defensive back. He is ranked No. 57 overall in the country and No. 3 at his position.

Elijah Shumate, also a four-star defensive back, split time at running back and linebacker this year. Shumate was ranked No. 128 in the country. He had a game-changing interception in the title game as well.

Mike Strizak is a three-star linebacker committed to Boston College.

Al-Quadine Muhammad has offers to three BCS programs as a junior defensive lineman.

Jabrill Peppers stars in the secondary and splits time on offense. Farrell believes that he has the potential to be a five-star player when his class comes up for ranking.

That is all but ignoring John Wilkins, Razohnn Gross, and Kyle Sakowski - who had two interceptions in the championship game - in the secondary and linebacking core.

Gross is a talent that is flying under the radar although he will likely be a force at linebacker as a senior. He also is an elite wrestler that could follow that avenue to college, but his passion is football.

It is a collection of talent that is hard to parallel on any high school football field in America.

"Our defense, all year, was the best in the country," Shumate said. "I don't care what anyone says you couldn't have played better than us."

Indeed. The team only allowed 92 points on the season. It held out-of-state opponents Mission Viejo (Calif.) High and Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward to each program's lowest point totals of the season and it shut out three other teams.

It frequently created short fields for the offense with interceptions and key special team plays.

Against Mission Viejo, two key first-half interceptions turned a tight football game into a rout.

The next week against Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, the team trailed into the fourth quarter and used two recovered bad punt snaps inside the Manatee red zone to take the lead and seal the victory.

Two weeks later against Bergen Catholic, a key fourth-down stop when the Ironmen trailed in the fourth quarter gave Don Bosco the ball inside the 35, allowing the team an opportunity to score. It intercepted another pass late to seal the game.

It overwhelmed St. Edward from start to finish, using its speed to overcome a size disparity against the offensive line.

And in the final game of the year, it simply confused the Bergen Catholic quarterback and did not allow the team a chance to get into any rhythm.

It was the defensive line that even opposing head coach Nunzio Campanile pointed to in post-game interviews.

"The defensive line harassed us all night," he said. "Hamilton was impossible to block and they all made plays."

It was a common refrain that all involved repeated after seeing the defensive line in action.

"They set the tone by being as physical as they are," Toal said. "That is what impresses me the most."

It is what keeps this team in the national title hunt seemingly every season.

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