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Landsharks: Defense still wins championships

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Kansas Pregame 18th Annual Football Preview cover reveal

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The term “Landshark” has come to mean an aggressive defensive player in football circles. A defender who hunts their prey looking to gobble up any ball carrier they can get their hands on.

In Kansas currently, the Mill Valley defense is most synonymous with the “Landshark” moniker, as after most any big defensive play the Jaguar defenders can be seen celebrating with the hand above the head to represent the dorsal fin of a shark. Mill Valley defensive players can often be seen with “Landsharks” t-shirts on and the team and defensive coaches take great pride in their pack-hunting style of defense, similar to that of a group of sharks.

While other high school and college defenses across the country also use the “Landshark” name and imagery to identify their brand and style of defensive play, the term has its roots in the state of Mississippi.

According to a 2015 article by Chris Wuensch on the website, the “Landshark” can trace its origin to then University of Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt’s first year leading Ole Miss in 2008. The Rebels were coming off a stretch of futility that saw them go 14-32 and bowl-less during a four-year stint under Ed Orgeron and the final season under David Cutcliffe.

Things turned around under Nutt. Led by standouts Peria Jerry, Greg Hardy and Jerrell Powe, the Rebels defense ascended to No. 4 in the nation. Ole Miss capped its 9-4 season with a 47-34 victory over Texas Tech in the 2009 Cotton Bowl.

At the heart of the defense was senior linebacker Tony Fein. In two seasons in Oxford, Fein wrapped up 136 tackles, including eight of them for a loss, but his true worth to the Ole Miss defense was measured in his heart, work ethic and a quirky celebration that became all the rage.

Fein served a one-year tour in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army before embarking on a college football career. In 2008, the Military Order of the Purple Heart awarded Fein — a two-year letterman at Scottsdale Community College prior to Ole Miss —  its Pat Tillman Award.

After each big play, Fein would fashion his hand into a shark fin on his forehead. The “Fins Up” mantra followed shortly after, and a brand new fledgling tradition was born.

At Rolling Hills Zoo, the newly remodeled and expanded reptile and aquatic species enclosure, now known as Bamboo Bay, will be home to a three-thousand gallon saltwater aquarium that features Cat Sharks. With over 150 species, cat sharks are the largest family of sharks.  This shark species hatches from a tough protective clear egg case, commonly called a mermaid’s purse.

In honor of this new exhibit, Kansas Pregame decided to devote much of its cover feature space this year to some of the top defenders in the state of Kansas, or “Landsharks!” A couple of big, tough offensive linemen slipped in as well, but we thought it appropriate considering their landshark style of play, always hunting for contact.

As a former coach and defensive coordinator at three different high schools in Kansas I remain convinced that defense still wins championships. Even in this modern era of wide-open spread offenses, the greatest teams I see play have a prowling, hunting defense that gets the majority of its players to the ball on every down.

Of course, in addition to this exciting new exhibit at Rolling Hills Zoo, this world-class facility in the heart of central Kansas – just under 10 miles west of Salina at 625 N. Hedville Road – is home to a variety of other exhibits and animals and an incredible wildlife museum representing animal habitats from around the world.

In late May, several of the state’s top players gathered at the zoo for our annual feature photo shoot. Thanks to the help of photographer Heather Kindall, intern Kaleb Becker, and staff writer Keegan McCullick, along with zoo officials and employees, we enjoyed another fantastic photo shoot.

Find these athletes’ features inside this year's soon to be released football preview, and for more about all there is to see and do at Rolling Hills Zoo, visit their website at