Coach John Iannucci of the Holy Spirit High School football team switched Dandre Dennis from starting at defensive end to starting at fullback before the season started.

Most players would be thrilled to be a full-time offensive starter, carry the football and score touchdowns. After all, except for the occasional sack, defensive linemen hardly get any attention.

But Dennis balked at the move. Spirit players take pride in their defense, and Dennis likes the looks of zeros on the scoreboard.

"Who doesn't?" the senior said.

Today, football at all levels is focused on offense. Some contests resemble video games. The average scores of games are higher than ever with the development of the spread offense.

But at Holy Spirit, defense is still a priority. The Spartans (11-0) have six shutouts and allowed just six points per game this season. They have not allowed a point in three games. Spirit will play DePaul (9-2) for the state Non-Public II title 1 p.m. Sunday at Rutgers University. The Spartans are No. 1 in The Press Elite 11.

"We love defense," Dennis said. "It looks better to have a game that's 50-0 instead of 70-49."

Dennis is back playing defense now. The reason Iannucci switched him to offense full time at the start of the season, was so that Dennis would be fresh enough to play both offense and defense now. The move looks smarter than ever after Holy Spirit sophomore defensive lineman Shawn Coursey suffered a knee injury last month and is out for the season.

"Dennis is a kid you never have to worry about," Iannucci said. "He's always going to be where he should be. You have to beat him."

The Spirit defense is formidable.

Dennis and fellow linemen Ray Ellis, T.J. Anderson and T.J. Clayton are physical players and difficult to block up front.

Linebacker Jeff Steeb has verbally committed to Villanova. Safety and linebacker Franco Rifici seems to be in on every tackle. Mike Mooney is also a standout linebacker.

Defensive backs A.J. Dawson and Rahim Smith are among the fastest in the state.

"We have real good team speed," Iannucci said. "When we make a mistake on defense, we can chase it down."

Most of the Spirit defenders also play offense. Anderson is the quarterback. Dawson, Rifici and Dennis are running backs.

"We're defensive players," Ellis said. "We're just athletes playing offense."

The Spirit defense does more than shut down opponents, it can also score. Spirit has scored five defensive touchdowns this season. Dawson has returned three interceptions for scores.

Holy Spirit's triple option offense complements the defense. The Spartans rarely throw and often control the ball for long periods. Spirit beat Immaculata 30-6 in last year's state Non-Public II title game. The Spartans took control of the game in the second quarter with a 12-play, 99-yard drive that lasted most of the quarter.

With such a stingy defense, Spirit doesn't panic if it commits a turnover.

"We don't get down," Ellis said. "We know our defense will step it up. We'll either score or we'll get a three-and-out."

The Spartans relish defense in part because they've been so successful at it. Iannucci said on a weekly basis the Spartans spend 60 to 90 minutes more on defense than they do on offense.

"Our kids love playing defense," he said. "We build it up. We build it. Some coaches don't they just pay it lip service. We make it a big deal."

Contact Michael McGarry:

609-272-7185