It isn't necessarily designed to keep consistent pressure on the quarterback as you see with the 4-3. After all, when you see five down lineman nowadays that usually means short yardage situations or a goal line stand. There's a lot of prevention in that type of defense, responsibilities about maintaining gaps, redirecting plays and controlling the pace of a play.
Not a lot of chances to make plays? It would certainly seem to be something that doesn't equate to defensive ends racking up a lot of sacks. But John Curtis Christian High School (River Ridge, LA) has done just that.
14 times to be exact.
14 sacks, 90 total tackles and all coming off the edge playing the five-technique, a technique which demands Walker Ashburn watch not one gap, but two. And he still makes plays. With those kinds of numbers you'd think he was a sleek type, more a linebacker than a defensive end, more an athlete than a true lineman. But at just a tad over 6-3, and around 245 pounds the edge of the line suits him just fine. "I love being a defensive end. It just allows you to make plays, keep plays inside and make a big impact on a game," Ashburn said. "There have been some schools who have talked to me about playing linebacker, and I have played that too. But I just feel home at the end."
Part of it is just the ability to come off the edge, which isn't all that easy when you are almost always in a four-point stance. How many sacks do you think Jevon Kearse got with both his hands on the turf? Ashburn admits to sometimes cheating a bit, because when that one hand goes free he feels like there are no limits. "The difference between having both hands down or one hand down, it's huge," he said. "Getting the edge from all fours isn't easy, so sometimes I might line up and just bring my outside arm a bit.
"The coaches would ask me kind of joking about what I was doing. But if I make a play it's OK."
At the prep level when you see successful defensive ends, some of it comes from pure talent and speed, some of it comes from size and strength. Ashburn thinks he's got a little of both aspects, but where he differs from many budding prep stars is that he's already focused on something now which will have to be a focus on the future. "I'm a technique guy. I like to be able to use my hands and feet well, and be able to take advantage of a lot of situations," Ashburn said. "A lot of guys you see, they either just try to beat the guy off the snap or bulrush them. But if that doesn't work, what are you going to do? You have to have good technique, and that's something I work on all the time."
With his size and obvious penchant for getting to the quarterback, as Ashburn said there are some schools looking to see if he might play from the up position at linebacker versus playing down at defensive end. But Nebraska, the one school which has offered him, wants him where he likes to be the best.
It's that, along with the Huskers being the lone school to offer him, which has the Huskers as the obvious number one. And it doesn't hurt that he has a former teammate there as well. "P.J. Smith went to my school, and everything he's said about that place it sounds absolutely great. It sounds like a place I want to see," he said of Smith who will be going into his redshirt freshman year for the Huskers. "And it's a big time program which has a tradition of winning. After being here you kind of get used to winning, and it seems like they are on their way back."
Used to it? I'd say. Maybe a better way to put it would be that they don't do much of anything else. For the last five years River Ridge has finished the season as the state champion. That's five state titles in a row. The good side of that is that you are hoisting hardware up at the end of each season. The bad side is that for players like Ashburn, they have to play two full seasons to equal what most play in one.
"We'd be out by half in every game. I think we stayed until the third quarter in the semifinals and maybe around the same in the state-game," he said of when starters usually went out. "We got used to beating up people pretty good."
That kind of success obviously means a lot of attention, schools from all over the country taking a look. Nebraska has obviously done that now with one player from River Ridge. Now they are trying to get two. But the Huskers may have company down the line. "I know Stanford and Duke called, and I get letters from a lot of schools like Nebraska, of course, but Virginia, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Tennessee and every now and then from UCLA," said Ashburn, who boasts a 3.8 GPA and a 19 on his ACT which he accomplished as a freshman. "It's been interesting, because one week there is a ton of mail and the next week not as much. But I think that's just how recruiting goes."
Of the most interesting schools Ashburn said that Nebraska and Virginia top the list. "I get mail every day from those two schools I think. There doesn't seem to be a time where I don't get something from them," he said. "The letters are picking up from others, but those two are definitely the most serious, and Nebraska is the one offer."
The fact that he has a friend and former teammate up there helps. The fact that Bo Pelini, now going into his second year as the head man at Nebraska, was at LSU before that, helps too. The style of defense they play, how they use their ends and just everything he's heard about the big red. Recruiting is a process for him, but he said that if Nebraska was the only offer he had that wouldn't be so bad. "Who wouldn't want to go there? It's a big time program and from everything P.J. has said it's amazing up there," he said. "And I know I have gotten along really well with coach J.P. (DE Coach John Papuchis). So, it's not like there is a debate as to whether or not it's a good program. I know it is. But this is about checking out the academics and figuring out which situation is the best for me."
While Walker says he has no immediate plans for unofficial visits or camps, he said that ideally he'd like to have his decision in the bag before the Summer is done. So, he knows he's going to have to get out there on the road to check some of these places out. He just don't know when.
As for favorites Ashburn said that Nebraska is the obvious number one, because of the interest they have showed him along with the offer. And it's a group of others who make up the rest of the list. It's still early, though, despite when he would like to make his decision. So, as much as he can he would like to take his time. "It's one of those things that even if I went to a place I wouldn't commit there, because I'd probably give my parents a heart attack if I did something like that and not tell them," he said with a chuckle. "So, I am going to look at the internet and learn all I can about the places, visit where I can and go from there."
Asked about the idea of playing a 4-3 in the future, which most schools in Division 1-A do, you don't have to ask him twice what he thinks about that. "To be able to come off the edge like that all the time, you can't ask for anything more. The three-point stance is good with me. Really good."