At first, individual assignments were something the Woodbridge defensive players associated more with one after-school activity (homework) than another (football).
Not any more. Not since the Vikings have given up a touchdown or less in three of the past four games, including in a 24-7 road upset of then-No. 18 Hylton on Saturday night that clinched their first Virginia AAA Northwestern Region Division 6 playoff berth since 1997.
The Vikings and Coach Keith King attribute the defensive success of late to players tending to their own assignments and not worrying about their teammates' duties. It's not as easy as it sounds.
"Sometimes when you have good athletes, they want to just go make plays and do things and it's hard for them to stay home and understand that we can't create gaps," said King, whose team could at least tie for the Cardinal District title with a win at Gar-Field on Friday. "You have a responsibility. They see: The play's away from me and I need to go make the play. It takes a while to understand that you can't do that. You have to play with discipline.
"You stress that from day one, but you just have to keep going on and on and on until they all buy into it. That's what they've done. They're starting to understand, if I just take care of my assignment, everything will be okay."
The defensive starters are Preston Simmons and Derrick Holt at end; Kingsley Wiafe, Leon Burns and Andre Foster at tackle; Ron Simon and Zack Weatherington at linebacker and Terrence Turner, Tommy Carter, Andre Bratton and Michael Wrighten in the secondary. All are seniors except for Weatherington, a junior.
"You worry about your job, and that's it," Weatherington said. "Our problem [earlier] this season was in order to cover somebody else you might blow your assignment or leave your assignment open. I guess we should have been, but we weren't totally into the defense. We had some mental breakdowns and other teams scored on big plays."
Bratton and Holt are the starting running backs but have played a lot of defense of late because of their athleticism. That has roughly coincided with the team giving up only a field goal to Gar-Field and single touchdowns to Forest Park and Hylton. One of the touchdowns allowed in a 20-7 loss to Stonewall Jackson in Week 7 came on an interception return and another was set up by a fumble at the Woodbridge 28-yard line.
The Vikings would like to count the win over Hylton as a shutout, because the touchdown came on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone. "It's been a concern of ours the whole season," Wiafe said. "We haven't had a shutout . . . so this is technically a shutout."
Not so fast.
"As a team, we didn't shut them out," King said. "It doesn't matter how they scored. They scored. That way you don't get finger pointing, you get everyone pulling for one another."
Hylton, without junior running back Courtney Anderson (shoulder injury), helped the Vikings by committing several ill-timed penalties, including an illegal block after driving 60 yards on its opening possession. A holding call negated a long fourth-quarter run by sophomore Tabian Johnson with the score 17-7.
On the other hand, Woodbridge assisted the Bulldogs by roughing the quarterback twice, resulting in 15-yard penalties. Hylton misfired on its last seven pass attempts.
"I thought every single kid was flying to the football and hitting some people," King said. "It's the same thing [we were playing earlier in the season], it's just that they're really understanding it now. And when you understand it, you're more aggressive in it."