Looking back, Greg Narvid can see how it all got started.
He was a middle linebacker at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania. And in those days, the quarterbacks called the offensive plays and the middle linebacker called the defensive sets.
"Whenever we had our intrasquad scrimmage, I knew our coach always called an off-tackle to the right," he said. "So I always blitzed myself to the left. I always made the first tackle and made myself look good. But I think that did help me."
Narvid had no idea where that would take him. Now in his 22nd year on Phoebus' coaching staff, he's recognized as one of the best defensive coordinators in Virginia high school football. If not the best.
During the Phantoms' current 27-game winning streak, their defense has been virtually impenetrable. Phoebus has allowed only 109 points during that span, an average of 4.03 a game. It has allowed averages of 41 yards rushing, 81 yards passing and 122 yards total.
Of those 27 straight wins, 15 have been by shutout. In only four of them did the opponent score more than eight points. Nobody has scored more than 19, which Woodside did earlier this year in a two-point loss.
The personnel changes from year to year. The architect remains the same.
"Greg is a great football coach," said former Phoebus coach Bill Dee, an ex-teammate of Narvid's in high school and college who first hired him in 1988. "He loves the game and he studies the game.
"Every year he goes to Virginia Tech and talks with them and tries to tweak the defense just a little. Stone Bridge gave us trouble (in the 2007 state semifinals) and scored 38 points. A year later, we held them to eight. Greg worked on how to stop them."
Officially, it's a 4-3 set. Yet it's an aggressive 4-3 that blitzes and takes chances but rarely gets burned. Speed is a must. So is discipline.
"It's not like a kid can just go," first-year head coach Stan Sexton said. "If he's out of position, it really affects the whole defense. We have gap responsibilities, and if you don't play it, you're hanging somebody else out to dry."
Last year, the Phantoms had a list of studs on defense than included linemen Dominik Davenport and Charlie Jones, linebacker LoVante Battle and cornerback Markell Wilkins — each now playing Division I football. Phoebus gave up 3.5 points a game and cruised to a 15-0 state championship season.
This year, the Phantoms not only lost those four players, they've also battled some injuries. Linebacker Caleb Taylor hasn't played since the second week because of a knee injury (he might come back tonight). Linebacker Justin Lyles missed three games with a bruised nerve in his shoulder.
And defensive end Daquan Romero, the Peninsula District's Defensive Player of the Year, has been playing all year on a bad ankle.
But players have filled. Guys like Anthony Cooper, DeShawn Arnold, Breon Key and Zack Williams, to name four. And Chaz Robinson moved from outside linebacker to inside and has led the team in tackles.
Narvid said continuity among the staff has been important. That, and the relative simplicity of the scheme.
"It's the same system we've been using pretty much forever, and I guess that helps," he said. "We don't change and haven't changed a heck of a lot over the years. When guys step up, it's not that hard to figure out what's going on."
It's awfully tough on opposing coaches. Sexton, a 14-year assistant at Phoebus before coaching at Warwick from 2005-08, knows that all too well.
"Even having been in Greg's system for a time, it was still hard being away trying to figure out things he does," he said. "You know he's going to blitz, but where's he going to bring the blitz from?
"You really get into a situation where you have to practice all kinds of exotic blitzes. You spend all that time working on things you're probably never going to see."
The personnel also doesn't hurt. Romero, who Narvid said had "two YouTube plays" in last Friday night's win over Great Bridge, is one of the best defensive players in the state as a junior. Robinson has ideal speed and aggression to be a Phantoms linebacker. And the secondary is anchored by safeties Paul Morant and Colby Goodwyn.
Narvid, who turned 56 on Tuesday, also credits his fellow assistants — particularly Greg Day, who coaches the line, and James Holbert and Alonzo Coley, who handle the linebackers.
But you can't overlook Narvid's track record. Since 2001, Phoebus' worst season average for points allowed was 13.9 in 2006. The Phantoms won the state that year.
"He teaches every aspect," Sexton said of Narvid. "He keeps the system solid. The kids run the same system on JV. It gets more intricate when they get to varsity, but it's still the same system.
"When you get guys used to the system, one group leaves, one group comes in. That's the way it's designed. The whole thing is designed to be successful."
You could safely say it has been.
Phoebus' streak The Phantoms' defense has played a big role in the team's 27-game winning streak going into tonight's region final against Lake Taylor. YearGRushPassYPGPtsPPG20091259.082.3141.3564.720081527.179.3106.4533.5Total2741.380.6121.91094.0Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times