It took one week for Shasta College’s defensive leaders to sulk following the Knights’ 2-8 season in 2018.
The Knights had their pick at excuses: Carr Fire devastation, lack of leadership, playing up in the National Division for the first time in five years against powerhouses such as Butte College, Siskiyous and American River.
But the defensive line turned their focus to 2019 almost immediately. It not only set the tone for the rest of the offseason but they carried it through the fall and lifted the program to a different level.
“That last game against Butte (College) we flipped the switch and we’ve been in the weight room ever since,” said sophomore defensive tackle Detrius Kelsall, a Shasta High grad. “It’s been a huge grind from December to now.”
Shasta College is off to one of its best starts in program history. The Knights are 4-0 for the school’s sixth time and enter Saturday’s home game against College of the Sequoias — presented by Sierra Pacific Industries — ranked 15th in the Junior College Athletic Bureau Coaches Poll, the highest ranking since ending the 2016 season at No. 15 following a 10-1 season. Shasta is coming off a six-sack performance against Sacramento City and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in two home games.
At the forefront of the turnaround is Kelsall, who has NCAA FBS recruiters following closely, and the rest of the sophomore-laden defensive line, which is turning in a season to remember through the first month of 2019.
“They literally are the heartbeat that pumps the blood through our defense,” said Shasta College defensive coordinator Craig Thompson, who served as the Knights’ head coach from 1996-2018.
Joining Kelsall on the interior of the line are Rashard Budd and RJ Bell. Locking down the outside is Cole Parker, Torren Calhoun-Ray and Payton Harrell, while Shane Mitchell can play both inside and out, Thompson said. This group sought to be one of the best defenses in the state. Lofty goals considering they’re coming off a season where the Knights surrendered 35 points per game and ranked 53rd in the state out of 68.
But their work ethic from a dedicated offseason turned into an infectious attitude that’s spreading through the rest of the locker room.
“They keep grinding,” Thompson said. “They’ve been fully locked in to helping turn this team around and set the standards for everyone else to work as hard.”
Through the first month of the season, Shasta College ranks third in scoring (10 PPG), third in total yards (215.8), fourth in sacks (16) and 10th in rushing (77.8). The bigger picture is they’re 4-0 but Parker believes the defense is still on the rise.
“I don’t think any of us are satisfied at all; we want to be first in all of those categories,” said Parker, who is tied for seventh in the state with 5.5 sacks this year. “We want to see 1s on the board, that’s when you’re winning and you get looks. That’s going to pull a lot of attention and a lot of respect.”
All four starters – Parker, Kelsall, Budd and Calhoun-Ray recorded a sack in last week’s win over Sac City. The line has 14 of the team’s 16 sacks on the year.
The depth in the trenches, Parker said, creates nightmares of opposing offenses who have to “pick their poison” when it comes to how they want to try and stop the Knights.
With different personalities comes different styles and all of the Knights bring their own specialty to the team to make up one of the state’s best units:
Detrius Kelsall aka “The Athlete”
Stats: 15 tackles, 5 tackles for loss of 14 yards, 2 sacks, INT
Kelsall has FBS colleges drooling over him. He played running back as a senior at Shasta High and Parker said he’d pick Kelsall out of anyone on the Knights to win a basketball game.
“He’s 6-3 and 295 pounds but he moves like he’s a shifty running back,” Parker said. “That’s a once in a lifetime thing you see – maybe in the NFL or D1 but we’re at a JUCO and you don’t see that.”
Cole Parker aka “The Worker”
Stats: 18 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss of 33 yards, 5.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup
Parker added weight to be stronger at the point of attack and quicker off the ball thanks to the offseason workouts from strength and conditioning coach Eric Jenkinson or “Doc,” who also serves as the defensive line coach. He finished as the state runner-up in the javelin in spring and brings the most energy on the line. He also serves as the vocal leader for the entire team, not just the defense.
“He’s the hardest worker,” Kelsall said. “He’ll outwork you on the field, in the weight room or in the classroom, too.”
Torren Calhoun-Ray aka “The Speedster”
Stats: 7 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss of 15 yards, 2.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup
Calhoun-Ray is another sophomore who benefited from a strenuous offseason workout program, adding strength to his game that already saw him become one of the fastest edge rushers in the NorCal Conference.
“Torren’s really lengthy, speedy, working up-field and uses his arms to his advantage,” Kelsall said.
Rashard Budd aka “Mr. Deception”
Stats: 14 tackles, 4 tackles for loss of 13 yards, 3.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup
Budd’s 6-3, 325-pound frame is intimidating to have to block at any level. But, like Kelsall, there’s more than size with Maryland native.
“He looks kinda goofy but he can play basketball and knows how to wrestle,” Parker said. “You can’t just pick stuff up like that. It just comes natural for him.”
Strength, athleticism and…speed, too, Kelsall said.
“He’s big and strong but he has this elusive speed you won’t know until it’s right in your face and he’s getting by you,” said Kelsall.
Shane Mitchell aka “Mr. Versatile”
Stats: 3 tackles
Mitchell, a local guy from Foothill High in Palo Cedro, added 30 pounds in the offseason to be able to play both an inside technique where he can use his quickness, but can throw some weight around with his strength to be able to play anywhere on the line.
“We try and get him inside now because he’s so much quicker and powerful,” Jenkinson said.
Payton Harrell aka “The Motor”
Stats: 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss of 8 yards, 0.5 sacks
Also a local kid from Central Valley High School in Shasta Lake, Harrell pushes his way through or around the offensive line with an unrelenting effort, drawing comparison to Parker, Jenkinson said.
“Payton has both power and strength and can lock down the outside for us,” Jenkinson said.
RJ Bell aka “The anchor”
Stats: 4 tackles
The only freshman of the group has held his own despite no experience. Bell saw the field often through the first two games and turned into an anchor inside that unselfishly plugged holes for the rest of the defense to make plays.
“RJ’s a big solid body and occupies two guys just about every time he’s in the game,” Thompson said. “He’s huge for us inside.”
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