Williams Field Noa Pola-Gates

Williams Field High defensive back Noa Pola-Gates, who is being recruited by Alabama, among others, has three interceptions this year on a unit that makes a habit of turning the ball over to its offense in good field position by forcing turnovers or stops on downs.

Playoff opponents of Williams Field High understand that there’s a reasonable chance they’ll be snapped, crackled and popped by the Black Hawks’ defense.

Although it is nearly all new from its 2016 undefeated state-championship football team, a sea of black jerseys always flies to the ball.

Only two players on the current roster made a tackle in both 2016 and 2018 yet the unit, boasting some of the best depth in Arizona, gave up 20 or more points only three times. The most by an in-state team was 22.

Williams Field’s 21 picks lead the 5A. Senior defensive back Noa Pola-Gates, a returning starter who is being recruited by Alabama, is among three Black Hawks with three or more interceptions.

“I’d say our biggest strength is getting to the ball quickly,” Pola-Gates said. “We practice it every week with drills so we know how to fill every gap and make the right play.”

Blanketing receivers with man-coverage allows the defensive line time to work, yet Williams Field gets to the quarterback in a hurry. The Black Hawks made 45.5 sacks, an average of a 4.5 per game to lead the 5A.

Christian Foote, a senior for the Black Hawks, leads the conference with 18.5 sacks. Coach Steve Campbell said Foote’s first step and elusiveness off the line combined with his brute strength and competitiveness rank him among the state’s premiere edge rushers.

“He’s unbelievably quick off the edge and has a great first step and a motor about him. A lot of times, things like that come down to desire, and he’s got that,” Campbell said.

Black Hawks’ senior quarterback Zach Shepherd said the defenders are told to stay off the quarterback in practice, and that doesn’t disappoint him.

“Christian is a really good player and I’m excited to see what his future looks like,” Shepherd said. “Really, he has such a quick first step and hits hard so I’m glad I’m not the one he’s lining up across from.”

Though the Black Hawks finished 9-1 and earned the No. 2 seed in the 5A playoffs, the offense struggled at times. It was times like those that the Black Hawks’ defense became the offense’s best friend.

Pola-Gates said that is even more motivation for the defense because its turnovers and stops put the offense on shorter fields.

“Turnovers are a big key in our game, because that allows our offense good position to make their own plays, which we need,” he said.

While the Williams Field defense can terrorize opponents, nobody faces it more than the Black Hawks’ offense. From the starters to the scout team, the defense challenges the offense every day on the practice field. Often the players provide a similar – if not better – version of what the offense will face on Friday night.

“Especially our secondary, and that is huge for me because I get to practice against them all the time and they can get me if I have a bad throw or something. Our defensive line also gives our offensive line great looks in practice, so it really helps both sides,” Shepherd said.

With one of the most talented units in the team’s history, defensive coordinator Kelvin Hunter said the emphasis late in the year was less on developing individual skill and more on getting the players to work together.

“We play pretty straight-up and don’t have to call too many different tricks or anything. We’ve got all these talented guys, so if they do their job and work together, they can make a lot of plays and the sky’s the limit,” he said.

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