Safeties First

Sun Valley safeties (from left) Michael Macchiavello and Cordarrius Williams are averaging 12 and 9.5 tackles per game, respectively, this season.

Sun Valley’s Michael Macchiavello considers himself a team-first guy, so he believes highlighting what he does well compared with fellow Spartan safety Cordarrius Williams is a frivolous exercise. After all, together, they’ve been pretty strong this season, so what’s the point?

“I don’t think we’re much different,” Macchiavello said of fellow senior Williams, with whom he’s played since the two were at Sun Valley Middle School.

But in this instance, Macchiavello is exactly right, and that’s been a big reason for the Spartans’ defensive success this season.

Entering Sun Valley’s showdown with Weddington on Friday, Oct. 19, a game which will largely determine the Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference’s final standings, the Spartans are 6-2 overall and 3-0 in the league. While the offense, powered by breakthrough stars such as quarterback Kevin Saxton and running back Albert Funderburk, has gotten much of the attention, the team’s defense has quietly put together a solid showing this fall.

After allowing an average of 59 points in their first two losses to state powers Charlotte Mallard Creek and Richmond Senior, the Spartans have tightened defensively, holding three of their next six opponents to seven points or fewer and are allowing an average of just 12.3 points since their 0-2 start.

The group has adopted the all-important “workmanlike” identity, coach Scott Stein said, and much of that starts with Macchiavello and Williams.

“I think they fit the mold of that guy that just kind of goes to work every day,” Stein said. “No matter where you put them, they end up showing up on film. It’s always good to coach people like that.”

Macchiavello leads the Spartans with 12 tackles per game – a remarkably high number for any player, much less a safety. At 6 foot, 200 pounds, he fits the mold of a prototypical strong safety. As an all-American wrestler, he’s big enough to help in run support or intermediate passing plays, which leaves the shifty Williams with free safety duties, making him the safety valve on passing plays.

But Williams is second on the team with 9.5 tackles per game, which illustrates Macchiavello’s initial point.

“I think we both have a head-hunter mentality,” Macchiavello said. “We both like to be extremely physical off the ball. I think we’re about the same.”

For the most part, Stein agreed. The biggest difference between the two is their aggressiveness with the ball in the air. Macchiavello likes to anticipate and try to make a play, while Stein said Williams is a bit more controlled in his approach. But while the two are on the field together, their mind-sets perfectly complement each other.

“They are interchangeable,” Stein said. “They’re each going to make good plays. I haven’t really had two safeties that have liked to get involved in the game plan like these two. We’ve had one real physical safety and one more over-(the-top) kind of guy, probably ever since I’ve been at Sun Valley.”

Those similarities have made life difficult for offenses this season. After all, if a quarterback can’t read which safety will take the deep receiver and which will cover the middle of the field, it’s nearly impossible to tell what the rest of the defense is going to do. But that’s only a realistic option if both players can cover a receiver, which is usually where the similarities end between a strong safety and a free safety.

Not with Macchiavello and Williams, Stein said.

“At the end of the day, they both cover pretty well, and that’s been surprising some (other teams),” said Stein, who noted that opposing coaches have been caught off guard by Macchiavello’s quickness.

“I think people have tried to go at him,” Stein said. “It seemed like Marvin Ridge, especially, tried to go after him in the passing game. Fortunately, he covered extremely well.”

In reality, the Spartan safeties are just two members of a solid senior class on the defensive side of the ball. Along with Macchiavello and Williams, linebackers Luke Gill (nine tackles per game) and Keenan Whalen and defensive lineman Josh Nixon have been essential to the Spartans’ defense this year, said Stein.

But Macchiavello and Williams also have played key roles as teachers. The Spartans replaced all three of their staring cornerbacks last year, and Stein said Macchiavello and Williams have been vital in taking pressure off first-year starting sophomores Courtney Brown, Codi Bryan and Kenneth Davis.

“We needed some senior leadership over there,” Stein said. “Of course, (Macchiavello), his mouth never shuts. (Williams), his mouth never shuts. It’s been kind of cool to watch how they’ve tried to grow (the sophomores) up a little bit.”

For Williams, stepping into a mentor-type role has helped him develop his own leadership.

“Me and Michael, we’re both seniors and in the secondary, so we have to make the calls to the cornerbacks and stuff,” Williams said. “We’re the leaders in the (secondary).”

While the Spartans’ next two games against Weddington and Porter Ridge will certainly place a huge premium on the defense as a whole, the versatility that Williams and Macchiavello have shown should continue to pay big dividends, both on the field and on the sideline. And if things go according to plan, the Spartan seniors will be able to erase the bragging rights the Warriors claimed when they shut out the Spartans, 6-0, in the middle school championship game years ago. The loss has stuck with the current Sun Valley 12th-graders, Macchiavello and Williams said.

But more important, a win this week would give the Spartans the inside track on the final Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference title before Porter Ridge departs next season in the state’s conference realignment.

“That would mean a lot,” Macchiavello said. “That’s been the goal for all of us and the coaches.”

Added Williams: “But we’ve got to earn it.”

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