Friday, October 3, 2008

Prairie View's LB East Sparks Panthers Defense

By Jordan Ingram
Tribune Correspondent

Statistics are only as important as you make them.
Prairie View A & M is currently in 4-0 with one Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) win over rival Texas Southern. The Panther offense has been clicking on all cylinders averaging more than 40 points per game and only allowing 11.5 points.
In the midst of Prairie View’s overwhelming domination, one player’s numbers doesn’t shine as brightly. Heading into Saturday’s game, one player must always be accounted for by Grambling State.
Senior linebacker Zach East, who was a double-digit tackle machine in 2007, has only reached 10 tackles once this season.
Chosen as the SWAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound East hasn’t been on the field a lot because of the improving offense.
Last season, East would be involved in at least 70 plays but this year the defense is on the field for an average of 50 plays. East, who leads the Panthers with 28 total tackles, says that the game is much simpler with a team filled with playmakers.
“It feels good because everyone knows their role and I can depend on my teammates to make tackles,” said East. “It makes the game much easier when everybody on the field knows their role and assignments.”
The Houston native has been one of the keys to the Panthers turnaround during his two years playing at Prairie View. When East transferred from Hampton University to help his family with family issues after his freshman year, the Panthers were a perennial cellar-dweller that barely won five games in the SWAC.
With the combination of East and head coach Henry Frazier III, Prairie View was 7-3 in 2007 which was the school’s first winning season in over 30 years. During training camp, expectations were set high heading into the season.
“We knew that we had the team to make this happen,” East said. “Nobody in the SWAC works out as hard as we do in these heat conditions. We’re really trying to correct the mistakes we made in losses last year so hopefully we can win the conference.”
East’s quest to end his college career with a SWAC title is a very attainable goal because of his exceptional head coach. Frazier is no stranger to championships having won a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championship in 1989 during his playing days at Bowie State. The star linebacker is happy to have such a knowledgeable coach helping them navigate through their stretch SWAC run.
“He’s real lenient and willing to work with people if you work hard but he means business,” said East. “This is the best coaching staff that I’ve had ever…including when I was at Hampton. They always have your back.”
Conference victories against Grambling and Southern University are at the top of East’s list because he feels that the programs have been the class of the SWAC. East realizes that his team has unfinished business against Southern and Grambling. Last season the Panthers were 0-2 and only averaged eight points in the two games.
“Whenever you want to get big wins it’s always going to be Southern and Grambling because they’re the premier schools in the SWAC,” said East. “We had a close game with Grambling last year and I felt like we left a win on the field that day.”
East says that finishing undefeated isn’t a huge discussion in the locker room.
“We take things one day at a time and we got Grambling this week so we’re not trying to look past them, said East. “I try to be a leader and tell the younger guys to stay focused because it can be a small mistake that can get us back to losing games again.”
Prairie View isn’t underestimating Grambling because their statistics are deceiving. Though the Tigers are 3-2, they’re currently on a two-game winning streak. Grambling’s offensive line has also allowed 18 sacks heading into the contest.
According to East, the Panther defense aims to be stifling regardless of the opponent.
“We’re going to get after the quarterback no matter who they are or how many sacks they gave up the previous game,” East said. “Our defensive line might’ve looked at those stats but no matter what, we’re going to get our [sacks] in.”
East’s focus has elevated past mere individual statistics toward earning wins and possibly being drafted into the NFL. With every win and solid performance that the articulate linebacker delivers, he puts himself one step closer to playing on Sundays next season.
Eager to win the SWAC this season, East says that he’s focusing on the task at hand and letting the pro football picture take care of itself.
“I don’t really focus too much on the stats right now but I might do it when the season’s over,” said East. “I really try to focus on inside things and not about what the commentators are saying about me. It feels good when people think that you’re one of the best in black college football and I want to keep doing things to prove those people right.”

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