WHILE Jefferson’s football team will see several new starters on offense, that’s far from the case on the defensive side of the ball this fall.
The Dragons, who open the season Aug. 22 against Rabun County, return nine starters off a defensive unit that helped Jefferson go 10-3 in 2013 and reach the state quarterfinals in the program’s final year in Class AA.
“I’m excited,” said senior safety Tradd Porter, an all-state honorable mention last year. “I think we can do really good this year. We got a bunch of defensive linemen and we’re pretty deep everywhere — strong. The linebackers and safeties are looking good. Everybody is starting to learn the defense.”
The team hopes its defense is good enough to hold opponents at bay should the Dragon offense face some growing pains early with five new starters at offensive line. Led by many of the same faces that will line up this fall, Jefferson’s defense posted five shutouts in 2013 and allowed 16.15 points per game (and just 11.8 points a contest in the regular season).
“We’ll be leaning on the defense to stop people and give us a chance to jell offensively,” second-year coach Ben Hall said last week.
Cole Stanfill (defensive end), Michael Paolozzi (defensive tackle), Dontae Wilson (defensive tackle) and Deshon Lester (defensive end and defensive tackle) all return along the Dragon defensive front after combining for 120 tackles and 10 tackles for loss last year.
“The guys up front are steady,” Hall said. “They play hard. They’re physical players. We feel good about the front four.”
At linebacker, all-region performer Trent Sorrells returns after finishing with 81 tackles a year ago with 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. Maverick McKinney (81 tackles, five tackles for loss) and Cooper Young (63 tackles, seven tackles for loss) also add experience to the position. In the secondary, Kendrick Robinson will be counted on in man coverage situations at corner back after three interceptions and three pass break-ups last year.
Then, there’s Porter, who led Jefferson with 96 tackles and earned Region 8-AA Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013 as a safety.
With seven of the nine returning starters being seniors, there’s a lot of familiarity and trust among that group.
“Most of us have been playing together our whole lives,” Porter said. “It pretty much just goes smooth. Everybody kind of knows what everybody can do so it just all fits in.”
When asked what he felt this defense could improve upon over last year, Porter said a little more cohesiveness would probably be the main issue.
“Everybody playing together and not doing their own thing, because that happened sometimes last year,” Porter said. “If we all just do the right assignment and everything, we ought to be good.”