Words are few, but plays are aplenty.
It’s part of what has made Andon Carpenter and his verbally quiet, but violent 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame so difficult on opposing offensive lines. Even though he was one of four new starters along the defensive front, the junior has become one of Derby’s most consistent threats in the playoffs.
A pair of sacks and a fumble recovery against Lawrence and Junction City aided both road wins. Even then, Carpenter’s coaches feel he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of the player he can be moving forward.
“He has a stoic personality, but when it’s game or practice time and time to be physical, he comes to work,” defensive line coach Derek Goble said. “He plays with such a great motor.”
Varsity playing time wasn’t a matter of if, but when for Carpenter. As a sophomore, he sat behind Tyler Dorsey and his 89 tackles on the depth chart. Through the course of the year, he became one of the most talked about underclassmen on Derby’s roster, seeing that he was ripe for the picking when it came to putting together a 2020 depth chart.
“You could see how special Andon was going to be,” Goble said. “He showed those flashes in those JV games of being that special player. He stepped into some big shoes of Dorsey at that nose [tackle] position.”
With then seniors Daniel Archer and Seth Smith also in the mix, Goble said the current group of linemen had to sit patiently in the passenger seat. With roster turnover and moving Carpenter and teammates Quentin Dorsey, Kaleb Gifford and Isaac Swetnam into starting spots this fall, there were understandable growing pains.
The group took its punches in Derby’s 45-14 season-opening loss to Mill Valley and again in its 36-35 loss to Maize on Oct. 16. At the same time, the defensive line felt it could become a strength in the playoffs rather than a weakness due to inexperience.
“We came to practice with a physical, mean, working mentality,” Goble said after its second loss against Maize. “They worked hard all year, but there wasn’t that edge. We found it after that game.”
With that progression came a shift of mentalities from opposing offensive coaches. While staying between the tackles may have been a way to expose Derby’s inexperience initially, Carpenter and his teammates’ progression have made an impact through each level of its defense.
“Andon and the other defensive linemen are being more physical and forcing linemen to take care of the three guys up front and freeing up linebackers to make plays,” Goble added.
Carpenter helped Derby put its proverbial foot down on Junction City’s season in Friday night’s sub-state win. Having seen it score two touchdowns in the third quarter, the junior kickstarted two turnovers on downs with a sack of Blue Jay quarterback Andrew Khoury in Panther territory.
“He is a bit reserved and when he makes those plays, it builds his confidence,” Goble said. “When he is physical and whipping that guy in front of him, you see that confidence build through the game.”
While the door to Derby’s seventh state championship is coming on Saturday, Goble said he and his staff are thrilled to work with Carpenter in preparation of his senior season.
“I really see him buckling down and doing everything he needs to do to be the best nose guard in the state of Kansas,” Goble said. “I think he could be that guy.”