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Jeffers stars at linebacker for Wylie East

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Sports

Wylie East’s defense continues its strong returning presence on the defensive side of the ball, with two returning linebackers for the 2023 season.

While first-team all-district linebacker Robert Samano graduated after 108 tackles for the Raiders’ defense last season, Wylie East has two additional returning all-district players to step into more significant roles.

Those players include rising senior Derrick Guzman on the inside and junior Rome Jeffers on the outside. Both players were second-team all-district last season in their respective positions, and head coach Marcus Gold said they could be leaders for the 2023 roster.

“Rome is one of our best talents athletically on the field and Guzman is one of our most experienced players entering his third year as a starter,” Gold said. “They both bring some experience to the field and do some great things for us overall.”
Jeffers’ role is expected to expand this season, his second on the varsity team. After missing his entire freshman year with a neck injury, he played Wylie East’s crucial fifth defensive back, outside linebacker role on defense. His breakout season finished with 70 tackles, three forced fumbles, and a game-sealing interception against Wylie High School in their rivalry matchup.

This season, Jeffers will slot back into his role on defense, while also being asked to contribute on the offensive side of the ball and roam more around the field when required.

“He blew away even our expectations for his first season of varsity football,” Gold said. “His confidence has gone through the roof and as he becomes more confident, he can do more on the field. He can play inside linebacker for us, line up in man coverage if we need him, back at safety. It’s just up to us as a coaching staff to put him in positions to have the ball come to him.”

Jeffers is part of the young defensive core that has Wylie East excited for the new season. The goal is to get him and multiple other playmakers in positions to create lots of turnovers, just as they did last season when they forced 15 turnovers.

“It’s easy and difficult at the same time as a coach because if we know where the ball is going, we can easily put Rome in a position to succeed,” Gold said. “The difficult part is that we want him everywhere on the football field if we could. It’d be easy to ask for five of Jeffers if possible. Week-to-week, we’re going to move guys around and give different looks, and it makes it harder for offenses to key on players.”

Alongside him, Guzman returns in the middle of the Wylie East defense. He finished the year with 78 tackles, including four tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. Most importantly, his guidance in the middle of the field is key to getting the Raiders set and lined up properly throughout the game.

“He’s the guy we’ve challenged to make the calls on the field,” Gold said. “That’s something he wasn’t as comfortable with when he first started and he did a really good job of that last season and in the spring. He’s played in a lot of big games for us and a lot of close games, so the team can look to him in those adverse moments.”

Competing for the final linebacker spot in Wylie East’s 4-2-5 hybrid defense are outside linebackers, Sean Berry and Kierrie Wright. Berry was a backup on the varsity team last season, while Wright worked his way up in his first year of playing football, starting as a backup on the junior varsity team to now competing for a starting spot on the Raiders varsity defense.

Whoever wins the starting job creates a nice depth of options for the defense to rotate guys in throughout games.

“We’re going to be able to rotate a lot of guys in through our first two scrimmage games and kind of discover our identity,” Gold said. “I don’t know if we’ve quite found that yet and it’ll allow all of our guys to get a chance and find the guys who are going start. It’s hard to stay healthy, and moving guys in if someone goes down will be key.”

Wylie East’s front seven continues to work through the summer and prepare for fall camp beginning in late July. Most important for the defense is finding the team chemistry that can make them as successful as a season ago.

“These guys think they have it, but I don’t think they do just yet,” Gold said. “They’re buddies and hang out together on the weekends, but that leadership is going to be defined by overcoming difficult moments. Last year, they gelled together so great and we believed in one another. We need to find that trust through adversity.”

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