JEFFERSON CITY - It has been impossible to ignore the Helias offense this season, but things are going just as well on the other side of the ball.

"If you look at the defensive improvement over the last three years, this year certainly is our best year defensively," Helias Head Coach Chris Hentges said. "That really starts up front with our defensive line."

Looking at the numbers, senior linebacker Ethan Holzhauser stands out. He leads the team in tackles, tied the career tackle for loss record, and already broke the tackle for loss record for one season.

"Ethan stood out for me for a long time. I saw that when he was just a sophomore, that this kid was going to be a special linebacker," Hentges said. "There's a lot of physically gifted linebackers, but they don't read their keys. Ethan and Isaac Lopez are such disciplined inside linebackers. If their guard pulls, they see that as a key and they fit where they need to fit in our run defense."

"It was just working hard every day, showing up every day and giving everything I had," Holzhauser said. 

His consistency paid off, earning him Defensive Player of the Year in the Central Missouri Activities Conference. It was the team's first year in the CMAC. As the smallest school in the conference with only 700 kids, Hentges didn't know what to expect.

"Anytime you get into a conference where every school is more than twice your size, there is some apprehension," Hentges said. "I knew one thing. I knew our kids would play hard. I knew our kids would rise to the challenge."

The players knew they could rise to the challenge too. "We fully expected to win the conference this year," Holzhauser. "That was one of our goals."

Their next goal is to win the district championship on Friday.

"Winning the conference title was a big accomplish and one that we take a lot of pride in, but this is equally important because it keeps you alive in the state playoffs," Hentges said. "We certainly want this awful bad this week."

"Bad is an understatement," Holzhauser said. "I really want to win."

The Crusaders will meet Warrensburg High School at Ray Hentges Stadium in Jefferson City on Friday, while playing for their first district championship win since 2014.