The difference between last year’s Butler defense and this year’s unit are easy to pick up on film for Bulldogs senior captain Sean Wiggins. The squad’s personnel remains mainly unchanged from last season, but the players have gotten faster, more people are converging to the ball, and the results have spoken for themselves.
As it has all season, when Butler (10-0) opens the Class 4AA playoffs on Friday, Nov. 2, at home against West Forsyth, the defense will form the perfect complement to the Bulldogs’ explosive offense.
But for Wiggins, the lack of recognition he feels the defense receives is the ideal motivation for a unit that’s already on top of its game.
“No matter what we do, people don’t talk about us,” Wiggins said. “We’re trying to set a record on defense (for fewest points allowed in a season), but it is like when we play somebody, all anyone wants to talk about is how (our opponent’s) defense has to stop our offense.
“The biggest factor for us is that we are Butler, and (it seems) the public doesn’t like us. They talk all about our offense, but that just (ticks) us off. We want to show everyone that we are the best defense in the state, so we do use it as motivation.”
Butler clearly has one of top defensive units in the state, and while allowing just 5.9 points per game, it could be argued that it’s one of the best in the nation. Littered with college prospects, the Bulldog defense has pitched three shutouts and never has surrendered more than 14 points to any team all year.
The Bulldogs have a swagger to themselves, still Wiggins feels the defensive unit is slighted. And it doesn’t stop there.
Wiggins also is being overlooked by major-college recruiters, even though his play in the middle of the Bulldogs’ formidable defense has allowed him to lead the squad in tackles with 108 stops – more than 40 more than the next-closest Bulldog.
“(The lack of recruiting attention) used to get to me a little bit,” Wiggins said. “But I had to catch my self and realize that I was being selfish. The way I look at it, I’m trying to get a (state championship) ring and help my team win. That’s what is most important and really all I can control.
“I’m not getting recruited as much as some (people), but I know that football is going to get me a free education and that I do have interest from some schools. Every time I take the field, I’m hoping to generate some (scholarship) offers, so I’m fortunate and I’ll take it from here and go.”
The senior captain has six offers – from The Charlotte 49ers, Army, Navy, Georgia State, Ball State and Richmond – but Butler coach Brian Hales is confident Wiggins will be successful at any school, and at any position, if given the chance.
“He’s so instinctual,” Hales said. “One thing Sean has above everyone else is that he understands timing and angles. Maybe he’s not a 4.5-(second) 40-(yard-dash) guy, but he understands the game and will take the best route to get to the ball.
“I tell college coaches when they come in that he’s a linebacker and will be a damn good one in college. But he could be a fullback or a tight end and be really good at those, too.”
Wiggins began his high school career as a tight end and started 13 games as a sophomore on Butler’s 2010 state championship team. He switched to linebacker as a junior, and after a short adjustment time, was the Bulldogs’ leading tackler last season.
This year, he’s on the “hands team” for onsides kicks, lines up at fullback, and fills the stat sheet from his linebacker position. Aside from leading the team in tackles, Wiggins has caused four fumbles while recovering three, recorded two sacks, two interceptions, blocked two kicks and made a team-high 13 tackles for loss.
No matter where he lines up, Wiggins said his style on the field is simple, and his coach said it’s contagious to his teammates.
“I try to go (all out),” Wiggins said. “Since I was 7 years old, I’ve been successful on the football field playing that way. Wherever the ball is, I’m going to get there. Even if I don’t make the tackle, I’m still going to get there.”
For the past two years, Wiggins has been spreading his passion and feel for the game to the team that gave him his start: the Mint Hill Chargers eighth-grade football team.
Wiggins coaches the offensive and defensive lines for the Chargers, and even though he’s not much older than some of the players – last year, current Bulldogs Benjamin LeMay and Clifton Duck were on the Chargers’ roster – he gets the same respect of some of the older coaches.
“It’s fun, I really do enjoy it,” Wiggins said. “The players treat me right, and the other coaches take me seriously because they know I know what I’m talking about.”
Hales said he could see Wiggins one day being a full-time coach, and thinks he would be good at that, too. Wiggins said at first he just wanted to help one of his older brothers, Bryan, who’s also on the Chargers staff, but coaching also is something he could one day see himself doing.
Coaching also has helped him on the field the past two years.
Hales said he could see how Wiggins has matured into the emotional leader of the Butler defense, a role Wiggins takes seriously. He takes it upon himself to make sure his teammates stay out of trouble off the field and make it to practice each day ready to improve.
“That was one of the problems we had last year,” Wiggins said. “We were the leaders of the team, but we were young. Now, as seniors, we’re expected to be in charge, and we are.
“I got asked early in the year by some of the coaches to step up, and I took that to heart. I’m always talking during the games and encouraging my teammates. We’re all in it together, and we all want it to end with a ring.”
For the Bulldogs to close the season as state champions, the defense will have to continue to compliment the offense and Wiggins has to continue to be in the middle of every play.
In Wiggins’ signature style, he said he prefers to enter the game on defense when the chips are down and the odds are stacked against him and his defense.
“We love when our offense turns the ball over,” Wiggins said. “That just means we have to get out there and get the ball back for them. That’s our only job, and that’s when I say, ‘Hey, we get to go out and look good right now.’
“I love it. When I see the (opposing teams’) offense running onto the field with big smiles on their faces, it’s awesome because I know we’re smiling to. Our job is to get the ball back, and I know we can do that.”