CHEYENNE – Adrian Hernandez didn’t like what he saw when Cheyenne East watched game film last season.

The linebacker saw himself getting to the football frequently, but he often didn’t make the tackle.

“I saw myself being lazy and not doing what I should have,” Hernandez said. “I got to the play, but I didn’t make the play. That really got on my nerves and made me want to work that much harder.

“If gave me a lot of motivation to really work on my craft.”

Good isn’t good enough for Hernandez. Classmate Jaret Taylor feels similarly.

The linebacker recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass during East’s playoff victory over Laramie. He returned both for 17 yards to set the Thunderbirds offense up deep in Laramie territory.

However, those plays aren’t what Taylor remembers most about the win over the Plainsmen.

“They made two great passes to guys I was covering, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen the rest of the year,” Taylor said.

“The two passes that got away mean more to me than the interception. I always want to make the play.”

An insatiable appetite for improvement has helped Hernandez and Taylor develop into two of the best linebackers in Class 4A.

Taylor has 52 tackles (27 solo and six for loss), two interceptions, a pair of fumble recoveries and a sack. Hernandez has posted 65 tackles (23 solo, three for loss) and a sack.

They have helped East (10-1) become one of the state’s best defenses. Entering Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game, the T-Birds rank third in the state in team defense, surrendering 300 yards per game. They lead 4A in passing defense (111 ypg) and are tied for second in scoring defense (16.7 points per game).

East hosts Thunder Basin (9-2) in the 4A title game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Okie Blanchard Stadium.

This is Taylor’s third season as a starter. He spent his sophomore campaign putting two hands in the ground as a defensive end. The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder moved to outside linebacker last fall. Pass coverage was the biggest adjustment during the transition.

“We were having to constantly replay things so he understood what he was supposed to do, or our safeties were having to tell him what his responsibility was,” T-Birds coach Chad Goff said. “We don’t have to do that anymore.

“(Taylor) has turned into a really good outside backer. He is super athletic for his size, and he isn’t afraid of contact.”

Taylor currently ranks 17th in 4A in defensive points per game (11.1). He has spent part of this season in the top 10 in that category. He likes playing linebacker better than defensive end.

“You see the play a lot better as a linebacker,” said Taylor, who has 99 career tackles (56 solo and 11 for loss). “You can see what the guards are doing and where the play is going.”

Hernandez excels at reading guards and getting to the football, Taylor said. Hernandez – a 6-0, 190-pounder – moved into the starting lineup for the final six games last season. He said he felt like he was barely keeping his head above water early.

“I was really nervous the first three games,” said Hernandez, who posted 61 tackles (20 solo, two for loss) as a junior. “Varsity is a lot faster game than (junior varsity) and sophomore football.

“It took me about three games to get comfortable, but it was great experience for this year. It showed me what to expect.”

Hernandez is now a player East asks to do different things than his peers.

“His understanding of what we’re doing has allowed him to be a guy who runs certain stunts for us,” Goff said. “We put him in positions to be more successful, and he really took the lead and went after it.”

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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