The Wylie Pirates linebackers combined for 33 sacks last season, one of the most productive groups in the area.
Unfortunately for the dominant defense, 14 of those sacks came from seniors last season, leaving a void to fill for the 2023 roster. Still with two of the four starters returning at linebacker positions, and two rising juniors who got plenty of experience last season, Pirates head coach Jimmy Carter feels good about his options for the new year.
On the two inside positions, leading the pack for the Pirates is rising senior Austin Fabian. While he only played in seven games last season due to a midseason injury, Fabian enters his third year on the Wylie defense as a starter and has a knack for leadership that he’s shown in each of his last two seasons.
“He’s just a tough, hard-nosed kid who knows this defense inside and out,” Carter said. “He knows how to get us out of bad situations and into good situations all the time. He’s not a flashy guy, but he gets the job done.”
Despite playing in only seven games, Fabian had four sacks last season to go along with 31 tackles, earning second-team all-district honors. Fabian’s development on the field has coincided with Wylie’s defensive development over the last two seasons, as he’s primed to be one of the best interior linebackers in the district again.
“He’s a super hard worker in the offseason,” Carter said. “He’s stronger this season and continued to work on his speed this offseason as well. You wouldn’t think it by just looking at him, but he’s a really good athlete who can play sideline-to-sideline on this defense.”
The other returning starter for the Pirates’ linebackers is outside linebacker, Brady Dalton. The rising senior was a standout player on a standout defense, finishing the year as a first-team all-district outside linebacker with 13 sacks and 91 tackles in 2022.
Dalton showed everything he’s capable of last season, but Carter believes he can do even more on the field this season.
“He’s gotten bigger this offseason as well and really looks primed for a big season,” Carter said. “We’re going to move him around a little more on defense, so he won’t just be blitzing off the edge, because he is so skilled and can play a lot of different positions.”
Dalton already played outside linebacker and returned punts last season but Wylie intends to also move him to the line of scrimmage at the defensive end and at safety in certain situations as well, showing his diverse skill set. With Dalton moving around the field, Guy Jackson and Aidan Atwell are also battling to see the field at outside linebacker.
“We want to mix it up and not allow offenses to hyper-focus on Brady,” Carter said. “Nothing is set in stone for us on the outside so we’ll look at who works and try to utilize everyone’s strengths.”
While the team is confident in their options at linebacker, settling on that rotation over their two scrimmages will be the key. Jackson and Atwell both are trying to show they have what it takes to consistently compete on the varsity team.
“It could be a situation where both guys end up playing as we move Brady around, but we just have to see how they look,” Carter said. “They’re good athletes and they have different things that they’re good at, but neither has separated from the others and we’ll see how they look this fall.”
Alongside Fabian on the inside, Harrison Vicic and Mark Dean are competing for the starting job this season. Both saw time on the varsity field to make up for injuries, providing a positive impact in games throughout the season.
Vicic was the primary backup that played while Fabian was out, finishing with 46 tackles and two sacks. In a difficult spot replacing one of Wylie’s top players, Vicic impressed the coaching staff by stepping up and making big plays in key district games.
“That experience is going to be huge for him going into next season with a little more expectations,” Carter said. “He’s going to compete for the job and he and Mark have had a great offseason.”
Dean slotted in mostly at safety last season as a backup but has continued to add size as he transitions back to his linebacker role. He had seven tackles and a key interception against Naaman Forest to seal the win, now fighting to earn that starting job alongside Fabian.
“His athleticism and range are really good,” Carter said. “He can run and cover ground and has developed his knowledge of the game. It’s going to come down to whoever has the hot hand and whoever is making the least amount of mistakes early on.”
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