Sacks, quarterback hits, quarterback hurries and passes defended, among others, have helped football bridge the chasm that was the gap in statistical information between offenses and defenses. Yet, decades into the game’s statistical revolution, there is still no stat for Ben Nola.
The senior defensive end spent the first three games of the season as a living funnel for the Tiger defense: seemingly always in the backfield, Nola was chasing ball carriers into the arms of Rashard Lawrence, Robert Williams or Cole Marsh, giving them the credit for the tackle on the stat sheet.
Nola couldn’t help but notice this trend and so did his defensive coordinator, Benjy Lewis. At one point, this phenomenon become somewhat of a running joke between them.
“He was so close and I told him, ‘Man, you’re going to lead this team in hurries and not have a sack to show for it,’” Lewis said.
The stats finally came for Nola in the Carroll game, coming up with eight total tackles, four of them solo, and a sack in what he and Lewis hope was the game that officially turned the corner for his senior season.
“Hopefully there’s a whole lot more to come,” Lewis said. “I hope it turns the corner for him to get there and, for lack of a better term, the taste of blood in the water. Hopefully, that carries on and he becomes a tremendous force for us. He’s close. He’s right there, like we’ve talked about.
“He learned from some good guys. Those guys from last year, I could never say too much about those guys. He learned a lot from them, and I hope that work ethic and that level of play is something Ben can mimic and we can mimic for a long time here, because we got a lot out of those guys.”
Nola’s lone season as a starter is turning the corner by his ability to, well, turn the corner. His speed on the edge has been an issue for every offensive tackle tasked with blocking him.
“If I can beat them with speed, I don’t really need a move,” he said.
Neville head coach Mickey McCarty added, “He’s a tenacious type of player. He’s going to play his assignment and he’s going to play with great effort to get to the ball, and that’s certainly what you want out of every defensive player.”
Lewis also classifies Nola as a, “speed-rush defensive end,” but he also admits that’s not the first thing that one would think of him. Part of that is because edge speed is something Nola had to work hard to develop after Lewis made the pitch to get him on his defense.
“I liked his motor,” Lewis said. “When we were able to acquire him for defense, I saw that the motor was there and that he really worked on that speed. He’s got it up to where he’s a guy I would call a fast defensive end.”
Nola added of his position change, “I played offensive line ever since flag football. I wasn’t really playing at all (at Neville). It was a new opportunity, a fresh start. I liked it, but I knew I could fit in somewhere else.”
Nola fit to the position is twofold, as his skillset meshes with the rest of the defensive line, too. Anterrius Goodin creates his own problems on the other end, while the attention in the middle garnered by Anfernee Robinson and Rashard Lawrence often leaves Nola in the one-on-one with a tackle situations that his speed is best suited for.
“I think sometimes, because of the way pass protection seems to be right now with Rashard in the middle, Ben gets those one-on-one looks. He may not get that back chipping to him,” Lewis said. “We have to cash in on those situations. We have to get the finish there.”
Nola added, “There have been a few times where the back is supposed to run inside but he bounces it out toward the ends. I definitely think that’s going to happen more this season. I’m not complaining about it.”
As much as Neville loves to see Nola bring an opposing quarterback down, Lewis likes to see him continue doing what they joke about.
“We try to work on those plays where there’s not a stat for it. There’s pride in it,” Lewis said.
“There are wins at the end of unselfish football.”
Follow Brett on Twitter, @BHudsonTNS.