Despite being an offensively-driven coach, Carlton understands the value of having a sound defensive scheme.
It is no secret that the game of football is now driven through offense. Players know it. Fans know it. Rudy Carlton knows it. The reason being, offensive schemes are just so impressive. The extended utilization of RPO’s, quarterback keeps, screen passes and everything in between simply leaves defenses at a disadvantage.
For Carlton, this is nothing new; but it makes him pretty dang ecstatic. Since becoming a coach his job has been to outsmart defenses through his offensive innovation. Now, however, this is only a component of his new position.
“I wish I had something to replicate the pressures and get a vantage point of being a head coach, but such a thing doesn’t exist,” said Carlton. “It’s no longer giving ideas. Now it’s making calls. You’re making decisions, not suggestions.”
It will be a brand new feel for Carlton, who has only considered the significance of defense from an offensive perspective. But the fundamental purpose in today’s game between offense and defense is fairly similar according to the new head coach. In order to have success on either side of the ball, it is important to use schemes and provide looks that confuse the opposition.
Just as there is with offensive schemes, there lies several pros and cons to any defensive scheme that is presented on the football field. Where the advantage lies is the unpredictability of what is run through that coverage. And when offenses can’t seem to figure out what the defense is giving them, it creates frustration and at times complete demoralization.
“I’ve been on the other side of that frustration. There’s been times when we’ve played defenses and been absolutely manhandled and beat up front. That feeling is so discouraging. And those types of experiences have made me preach balance, to try and be a coach that doesn’t sway either way. It’s about having a great offense. It’s about having a great defense. It’s about having a great special teams unit. You have to be great at everything to be an elite team,” Carlton stated.
After several years of only being able to give suggestions on the defensive side of the ball, it is now his job to make sure all components of this team are clicking, and with that comes blame when things aren’t going perfectly. While this is a new reality for Carlton, he understands that in order for the team’s expectations to be met it starts with a strong coaching staff.
The Cougars’ coaching staff experienced a tremendous shift since last season. Of course, both Carlton’s shifting to the head role and Victor Santa Cruz leaving for Hawaii were massive transitions for the program. But for the defense, their coaching personnel experienced several differences.
The biggest was the position of defensive coordinator. Last season that title was held by Cesar Rivas-Sandoval, who is now the head coach of Southeastern University in Florida. Along with Rivas-Sandoval, the assistant linebacker coach in Justin Utupo also moved on from APU and joined the staff at Orange Lutheran High School.
With certain spots needing to be filled, the program hired two new faces to join the Cougars’ coaching staff. One is former NFL defensive lineman Zach Minter, who is making his coaching debut with Azusa. The other is Kylle Shoemaker, who was hired as the defensive coordinator. Shoemaker is heavily connected with the APU community, as he earned his master’s degree at APU in organizational leadership.
He was a linebacker coach in 2011 for the Cougars before becoming the defensive coordinator for Missouri S&T and most recently the special teams coordinator for West Florida, winning an NCAA Division II Football National Championship in 2019 with Argonauts. But, most importantly, his relationship with coach Carlton is deeply rooted through friendship.
“We spend every New Year’s Eve together,” said Carlton when talking about Shoemaker. “We would always talk about football and dream about coaching together. It used to drive the wives crazy cause at these parties we would always end up talking football and drawing plays on the coffee table. Our relationship has always been driven by the game, and it’s a hire I’m very excited about obviously.”
Shoemaker, however, is not a normal defensive coordinator in the way he coaches. The saying always goes “in order to play defense, you need to be a little crazy.” The same thing can be said about coaching defense, which is why so many defensive-minded coaches are loud, aggressive, energetic and extreme. APU’s new defensive coordinator can not be described through these adjectives. Instead, he is quiet, cerebral and mindful. This difference in leadership, however, does not make him a lackluster motivator.
“The players love him. He does a tremendous job of motivating his guys, and he is just very schematically smart. He reminds me a lot of an offensive guy with his approach to the game. But as a defensive mind, he’s brilliant,” Carlton said.
What must remain important between the relationship of Carlton and Shoemaker is not only a friendly demeanor but also a level of agreement when considering a defensive gameplan. Under Santa Cruz, who was a defensive-minded head coach, the defense remained consistent in their schematic approach in that it was heavily reliant on having one man high to incorporate Cover 3 zones. Shoemaker is trying to build a defensive culture that embodies Cougar football but also implements newer and more improved defensive schemes, which excites Carlton.
“Obviously I can’t get into too much detail about what he is presenting, but he is certainly a schematic fit. I love what he wants to do from all defensive angles, whether that be how he wants to handle the personnel in the box or how he wants to handle coverages. His philosophies are in line with the way I see this football team progressing,” he said.
This is where leisure is finally given to Carlton, and where he can take a deep breath. There lies so much excitement and trust between him and his coaching staff that he notes when dealing with the defense his role is to just step back and let the defensive coaches take control.
“I always seem to say to myself ‘alright, just get out of the way and let them do their job.’ All of these guys are great football coaches, but more importantly, they want to use the platform of football to change lives,” Carlton noted. “And certainly there will be things I want to see on the defensive side of the ball. And I trust that the relationship between myself and coach Shoemaker will maintain that dialogue throughout the season. That goes with the rest of the staff as well. I think there’s been more collaboration on this staff than ever before.”
And committing to such partnerships has been effortless for him so far, as he feels the group of men that build this staff are some of the brightest football minds he has encountered.
“We are all young coaches who don’t have a ton of experience. But it’s been cool to see just how fast we’ve gelled as a coaching staff,” he said. “My prayer was for God to bring God-competent men that are great coaches and understand the APU vision. And these hires along with the rest of the staff are exactly that.”