TAMPA — He spent an offseason peering beneath the proverbial hood. Berkeley Prep coach Dominick Ciao, in dire need of defensive tackles, essentially ignored the framework.
In the case of senior Basil Jackson and junior David Wright, he had to. These diminutive dynamos were built like smart cars but stocked like race cars. Every day, their internal horsepower was overriding their compact outer design.
“Their motor just runs all the time,” Ciao observed.
So the veteran coach relented, sandwiching the two between a pair of seasoned ends on his four-man front, with the hopes he could get some modest mileage out of them.
Jackson (5-10, 160 pounds) and Wright (5-7, 150) have been fixtures ever since, acquiring the nicknames Thing One (Jackson) and Thing Two in the process.
“They were moving 100 mph all the time,” said senior end Tyler Davis, a veritable behemoth (6-2, 215) when aligned next to them. “And Coach saw that and made a smart decision by putting them there.”
As middle cogs in Ciao’s trademark 4-4 scheme, Jackson and Wright long ago asserted themselves as matchup problems instead of punch lines. With Davis and fellow four-year starting end Reggie Barnes (6-2, 210) flanking them, and senior Wes Dickerson (6-2, 198) providing spot duty, they’ve flourished.
“I guess at the beginning of the game, they think they can just manhandle us,” Jackson said. “And then usually by the end of the game you’ll see a change of like, ‘Wow, how are these guys running around us so much? What can we do to stop ’em?’ ”
Entering Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal at Delray Beach American Heritage (10-1), the two have 79 combined tackles. Wright, a former freestyle specialist on the Buccaneers swim team, has a team-best 8.5 sacks.
“(Berkeley’s coaches) don’t ask them to play like they’re 270 or 300 pounds,” said Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez, whose offense managed 150 yards in a 28-0 loss to the Bucs a month ago.
“They have them hit gaps and use their quickness. As an old hog myself (Henriquez played guard at Princeton), those are sometimes the toughest guys to block. It’s tough to get leverage on them, and you expect them to be one place when they’re at another.”
In a sense, both are converted linebackers. Jackson, whose older brother Marc was a 6-10 power forward with five NBA teams, had 21 tackles last year but essentially was an odd man out at linebacker. Wright, meantime, had 10 tackles but struggled for playing reps up front.
That changed when tackles Chase Carmichael (6-1, 235) and Speros Theofilos (6-0, 235) graduated in June. Wright, who had worked at linebacker in spring but didn’t feel comfortable, excelled when he slid back down.
“They practice hard, they play hard, and we felt like going in that we could get some snaps from them there with their motors,” Ciao said. “And they just kept on making plays for us there.”
With the Davis/Barnes tandem fortifying the edges, senior linebacker Schyler Miles patrolling the middle, and a Nelson Agholor-led secondary, Berkeley heads to Delray Beach as the bay area’s most dominant small-school defense.
The Bucs have shut out opposing offenses in exactly half of their 12 games. That doesn’t count a 41-6 playoff romp of Frostproof, when the Bulldogs scored on the final play.
They have allowed six total points in their past four contests.
“The one thing Berkeley does — really their entire team, but their defense especially — they are so scheme-sound, they don’t ask their kids to do anything more than they’re capable of doing,” Henriquez said.
“And they let their two or three slash players make slash plays. And that’s the recipe for a great defense.”
Not to mention a key for quality mileage from your compact models.
“They were in there, we were going to help them learn …and hope everything would work out,” Barnes said. “And as we’ve seen, it has.”
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com
Photo: From left, Berkeley Prep's Basil Jackson, Reggie Barnes, Tyler Davis and David Wright.