Caulin Bartley remembers the game against McQueen like it was yesterday, and with good reason. It was his first-ever start at the varsity level.
“The first play I got beat,” said Bartley as the Senators prepared for their playoff opener at home Friday against McQueen. “Coach (Steve) Dilley came up to me and told me to calm down. They ran a vertical on me, and their guy was way behind me.”
Fortunately for Bartley and the Senators the pass landed incomplete. Bartley has been a rock-solid cover guy, giving up just one score all season, that coming against Damonte Ranch in the Sierra League opener.
“I think I’ve done pretty well,” said Bartley, who has 41 tackles, seven passes defensed, a fumble recovery and an interception. “Everything is so much faster than at the JV level, the crowds are louder and it’s more intense. I’m playing a lot for a junior I guess.”
Bartley has earned the respect of his teammates and Dilley, the team’s defensive coordinator.
“I think he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league,” said teammate Dilyn Rooker, who starts at the other cornerback for the Senators. “I go up against him every day in practice. He’s only given up one TD all season.”
That stat is impressive, because Bartley was a safety at the JV level.
“Caulin has bought into what we’re trying to do,” Dilley said. “He’s very coachable. He does, however, get down on himself a little bit. We were easing him into cornerback (a little), but when Josiah got hurt, he had to go in there and start. That first game against Clayton Valley really showed him what the speed of the game could be.
“He’s played well since then (the first McQueen game). He’s a pretty physical corner. He’s held up well against the bubble screen and sweeps. He isn’t afraid to stick his nose in there. I’m not surprised he’s played so well. He did well in the 7-on-7 tournament down at Douglas over the summer.” There’s more to football than the physical part of the game, and Bartley is quickly learning on the job. He’s becoming more instinctive and he recognizes formations a lot quicker than when he first started.
“Ikela (Lewis) usually calls the formation, and I’m looking at the formation when they come to the line of scrimmage,” Bartley said. “Last week (against Douglas) we played a lot of man defense on the backside because of what they were doing. I like playing cover 2 and having Asa (Carter) or Brandon (Maffei) behind me. It makes me feel safer. I’m not thinking about things as much, I’m just doing it.
“McQueen ran the ball most of the time that first game. They didn’t throw it a whole lot. It was their first game of the season when we played them. They could have gotten better. I’m expecting a tough game.”
Dilley likes what he sees from Bartley when it comes to the mental part of the game.
“He’s becoming a student of the game,” Dilley said. “Not to the point that Dilyn (Rooker) is. He is starting to understand what we’re tying to do when it comes to down and distance.
“We try to keep things simple (on defense) for everybody.”
And, Bartley has been able to make a couple of big plays this year.
Against Hug, quarterback Dikembe Montgomery tried to pitch the ball with a Carson defender hanging on him. Bartley returned it 40 yards, setting up Colby Brown’s 16-yard scoring run which made it a 14-0 ballgame. In a 42-0 win against Manogue, Bartley intercepted a pass, but it went for naught when Carson turned the ball over on downs in the Manogue red zone.
Bartley will be looking to continue his string of solid efforts against the Lancers, who lost 28-21 to Carson.