Gleason overcame injuries, led stout Rebel defense, wins Defensive Player of the Year

Cory Diaz
The News Star


Each of West Monroe’s starting defensive linemen made a strong case to be the team’s defensive MVP, all putting together monster seasons to form what head coach Jerry Arledge and his defensive staff, as well as others following the football team, call one of the best fronts to come through the program.

While all four each took over games at different times during the memorable 2018 season that included an undefeated regular season and an historic four straight shutouts in the Class 5A playoffs before ending in heartbreak in the state title game loss to Zachary, one D-lineman edged out his teammates in each statistical category.

West Monroe High School's defensive end Andrew Gleason stands for a portrait after winning the Toby Caston Defensive Player of the Year on Dec. 20 in Monre, La.

And for a while, the type of senior season Andrew Gleason pieced together seemed like a long shot goal and far from reality. The Rebel senior defensive end entered this year coming off an ACL tear in his knee suffered in West Monroe’s semifinal loss to Zachary the year before and he and his coaches weren’t sure what to expect out of him.

““First couple of weeks of fall practice, I was very rusty. I just took a lot of reps,” Gleason said. “I was basically asking the coaches for reps and they gave me all I could ask for. Stayed early and late, watched as much film as I could.

“Honestly I didn’t see this type of year for myself. I felt like I was kind of slow, sluggish with my leg. As the year went on, I felt like I was getting healthier and I didn’t realize it, but at the end of the regular season, I was leading in a lot of stats and I didn’t know I was having that good of a year.”

It took Gleason a couple of games to fully trust his surgically repaired knee and once he defeated that mental hurdle, Arledge said the defensive end, and his grandson, saw his productivity skyrocket and was back to the player Gleason felt like he was before the injury.

Gleason finished second on the team in tackles with 87, an absurd number for a defensive lineman and paced the stout defensive line with 12 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries. His stellar performance earned him the All-NELA Toby Caston Defensive Player of the Year award.

“He has a very good get off, he turns the corner exceptionally tight,” Arledge said. “When you make that turn to get around that blocker at the position the guys that hold well make good offensive linemen and that’s how you have to combat all the time.

“Any one of those four guys could be the MVP, there’s no doubt in my mind. He was just a little bit ahead in every stat. And probably played the least because we rolled other ends in.”

Ironically, Gleason’s stiffest competition for The News-Star’s top defensive award lined up right beside him in West Monroe senior defensive tackles Dalvin Hutchinson and Ethan Swanner as well as fellow end Malcolm Moore.

The award is where the battle between them ended, but it’s not where it started. The group had a friendly competition each week, to best their teammates in who could garnered the most sacks and tackles. Most Friday nights, Gleason came out on top.

“On Sunday mornings we’d come in and watch film and do a workout. They have a sheet up that’s got our stats on it for the week and we’ll always look at that. That’s always the highlight of the day, who got the most tackles and sacks,” Gleason, who doesn’t have an offer but has received interest from Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Miss, said. “We enjoyed doing that. I guess we did have a little bit of a competition going on.

“We all knew each other had a job going into the game. When you’re playing alongside guys like that, it makes your job a lot easier. You come to respect who you’re playing beside. We all have different set skills. I think we realized that going into the season. They might be better than me at something and I might be better at them in something but I think overall, just about any of us could go out and take over a ballgame at any time.”

On top of believing that any of his D-linemen could’ve been the MVP for his defense, Arledge said there wasn’t much difference between the four. But two things stuck out to the Rebels head coach about Gleason, his passion and his ability to play through pain, playing through a shoulder injury in a game his junior season and toughing out a pretty severe ankle injury in the 2018 state championship versus Zachary.

“He is certainly one of the most passionate kids I’ve ever been around and coached. That’s the driving force is his love of the game,” Arledge said. “I’ve had the opportunity to coach two grandsons, Will Blackwell back in 2004 to 2006.

“Andrew is very unusual because most kids you have to push hard. He’s able to push his own button and that’s evident when you watch him. What he’s done is he’s earned it.”

Playing alongside his brothers across the defensive line will always stick out to Gleason about his final high school football season. But what he’ll remember most is how the whole team came together to make it back to the Superdome.

“I tried to be (a leader). That was my goal coming into the year. Especially on the defensive line, the seniors got together and said we got to be leaders this year. I hope we were good leaders,” Gleason said.

“This year we really came together just like a team that makes it to the Superdome should. I’m glad how we came together. Every Thursday we’d go and have dinner at a defensive player’s house, I’m going to miss that a lot and the friendships I made.”

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The News-Star’s Defensive Player of the Year award is named for Neville High School’s Toby Caston. Caston starred at linebacker at Neville and on LSU’s 1986 Southeastern Conference championship team. He selected in the sixth round of the 1987 NFL Draft and played seven years for the Houston Oilers and Detroit Lions.