By Jeremy Stafford
WINCHESTER -- When Corey Giffing played outside linebacker at North East High School (Md.), his coaches typically saved film sessions for those rainy days when the school's practice field turned to a muddy, sloppy mess.
Because Giffing rarely watched film, he didn't understand the intricacies of football early in is career, he didn't quite know the importance of playing with a high football IQ.
Left with few alternatives, Giffing had only one approach to high school football: "I was just kinda the guy that would run around, trying to get to the football," Giffing said.
Still, Giffing played well enough that his friends and coaches thought he could play at the college level. A few strings were pulled, and suddenly Shenandoah offensive coordinator Brian Wolf was recruiting Giffing to play for the Hornets.
Shenandoah is where Giffing really learned to play football. It's where he learned the importance of watching game film, and so he watches it regularly. Shenandoah is where Giffing learned to break down an offensive formation, and to key in on individual tendencies.
It's where he learned to figure out where the ball was going before it was even snapped.
"Basically, it was a whole new atmosphere coming to college football," Giffing said.
Three games into the 2008 season, his freshman year, Giffing was tossed into SU's game against Albright, a game Giffing maintains was the fastest he's ever played in. Giffing said he got an assisted tackle that game -- he remembers chasing after the ball carrier, but he doesn't remember much after that.
The speed of college football has a way of distorting early playing memories.
Games became progressively slower following that Albright game, primarily because Giffing learned to watch film, and he understood his responsibilities more completely.
"Formation recognition is tremendous," SU coach Paul Barnes said. "... Corey's getting to that point where he can go in there and recognize what we recognize."
By the end of his freshman season, Giffing had accumulated 28 tackles and had worked his way into the starting lineup. In his sophomore season Giffing's 68 tackles were second-most on a Shenandoah defense that topped the USA South in total defense, giving up only 303.3 yards a game.
Giffing credits a lot of his performance last season to having played next to Joe Lunsford, who was a first team all-USA South linebacker his senior season.
Giffing said Lunsford was one of the best pure tacklers he's every played with.
The graduation of Lunsford this past offseason preceded Shenandoah's switch to a 3-4 base defense, a series of adjustments that wasn't difficult for Giffing to make. After seven games, Giffing leads the USA South with 78 tackles. With 35 solo tackles, he is tied with Greensboro junior Allen Stallings for most in the conference.
Giffing is one of only two players in the USA South averaging double-digit tackles.
"I kind of expect it from myself," Giffing said. "I just try to fly around and get to the football.
"That's what I did in high school, it's pretty much the same thing, just on a different scale."
The tougher adjustment came for the entire defense, when senior linebacker John Redmond suffered a knee injury against Christopher Newport. Despite missing the last three games, Redmond's 30 tackles ranks 28th in the conference.
Again, Giffing had high expectations for the SU defense. After all, he was a freshman when he first earned his starting role.
"That's basically how it's been since I've been here," Giffing said. "Freshmen, they come in and there's a few that can fill the holes right away."
Freshman linebacker Joshua Rogers is doing just that. After starting in only two games, and playing in only six games, Rogers is second on SU's defense with 57 tackles.
But a week after giving up 56 points to Ferrum -- granted many of those points were scored on special teams, and offensive turnovers gave the Panthers profitable field position -- Giffing said Shenandoah's defense is still a long way from reaching its potential.
With two conference losses already, SU will have to win its last three games if it's to compete for a conference championship. And with Averett traveling to Winchester today for a 7 p.m. game, the Shenandoah defense, with all its untapped potential, will have to put forth one of its best efforts of the season.
The Cougars boast an offense which accounts for 322.9 yards a game, and scores 26.1 points a game.
Averett tailback James Wilson leads the USA South with 602 rushing yards.
At least Shenandoah has one thing working in its favor: Averett runs a fairly standard offense when compared with the peculiar option offense Ferrum flaunted last week.
"I'm confident with this week's game plan," Giffing said. "I think the guys are used to seeing this style of offense, it should be a better outcome than last week."