DeKALB – A young defense generally means an up and down defense, and while that has been the case for the DeKalb football team this year, one of its most consistent players is a sophomore.
Cameron Grays earned the starting strongside linebacker spot and has become one of the biggest playmakers for the Barbs. He's coming off a game Friday in which he had seven tackles, two for a loss, three pass breakups and an interception in a 34-7 win over Waubonsie Valley.
Coach Keith Snyder said Grays reminds him of senior safety Donovan Lacey, who played the same linebacker position Grays is in now.
"Quite honestly he's been one of our better players all season on defense," Snyder said. "He's done a really good job at that outside linebacker spot. And it's a tough thing, Donovan can attest because Donovan had to do the same thing when he was a sophomore. And he reminds me a lot of Donovan at that age where he had to grow through some things."
Grays said he's been motivated to prove he can start from before the season began.
"Being young, being a sophomore, I wanted to show them I could play," Grays said. "I want to show the whole conference I can play."
After two shutouts to start the year, DeKalb (4-2 overall, 2-1 DuPage Valley Conference) gave up 44, 34 and 30 points in losses to Edwardsville and Neuqua Valley and a win against Metea Valley.
Snyder said there were a couple of factors at play – noticeably the quality of the teams. Neuqua is ranked in Class 8A, Edwardsville spent time ranked this season, and Snyder said Metea Valley is a vastly better team than their current 1-5 record shows.
But aside from that, Snyder said that kind of up and down play comes with young team. And the Barbs certainly qualify with eight new starters on the defensive side of the ball.
"You're not as good as your best game and you're not as bad as your worst game. I think we're somewhere in between, defensively," Snyder said. "I think when we're right we show what we're capable of. ... When you have a defense as young as we have, they're going to ride the waves of emotion and be up high and when things are tough they're going to get low. They don't have that experience to rest on it, to understand."
That youth has left the Barbs hungry to prove themselves in the DVC in their first season, Gray said.
"We've been showing the DVC we can ball with them," Gray said. "Every single week we're going out there and proving it."
What has kept Grays more even-keeled throughout the season, Snyder said, is how well he's taken the coaching of the staff, especially outside linebackers coach Jeff Saurbaugh.
"Coach Saurbaugh has done an excellent job with him, Tanner McDonald, when Trenton McCollum was playing defense this year," Snyder said. "He's done an excellent job, being the first year on our staff, coaching those young linebackers up. Jeff's done a great job coaching those kids up, making them understand the technique that's needed for the position then helping them understand how teams are going to attack us. I think Cam has listened to his coaching and has gotten better because of it."
The Barbs continue DVC play Friday against Naperville North (2-4, 2-1) in search of their fifth win, which would make them playoff eligible for the seventh straight year.
And even though Snyder called him one of the team's best players already as a sophomore, Grays doesn't want to get complacent.
"I feel like I could do much more," Grays said.