DAVIDSON Last season, Davidson Day’s fledgling high school football program won its second straight state title. It was the second year the school fielded a varsity team, and almost as soon as the Patriots beat Christ School in Arden, N.C., coach Chad Grier knew his team needed to make a big change.
Davidson Day needed a defensive makeover.
The Patriots finished 11-2 last season, but 10 opponents scored 20 or more points. Four teams scored more than 30. In one of the wildest games in N.C. high school football history, Davidson Day beat Harrells Christian 104-80 in the state semifinals. The next week, the Patriots beat Christ School 54-38 in the state final.
Two weeks, 118 points.
“That’s giving up too many points,” Grier said this week.
Grier and his staff looked at their personnel and saw some serious potential in a group of linebackers. They trashed last year’s defensive system, which called for four defensive linemen with three linebackers playing behind them. This year, Davidson Day uses three down linemen, including 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore Ricky Smith, and up to five linebackers at a time.
It’s working well.
Davidson Day (4-0) plays rival Community School of Davidson Friday night at home. In its first four games, Davidson Day has played two teams that reached the state semifinals last year in public and private school competition and another Division I private school state finalist. The Patriots have allowed just 40 points. Offensively, Davidson Day ranks fifth nationally in total passing yards (1,448) and fourth in scoring (239 points), according to MaxPreps.
Davidson Day is known for its offense. The defensive improvement is new.
“The scheme has been different,” Grier said. “We’re not deep with the big guys, but we’ve got a lot of athletic kids and that enables us to feature our linebackers more and our front seven has just been the biggest difference. In the past, we’ve been young and inexperienced. We’ve done it with a lot of smoke and mirrors.
“We would bend and don’t break and just try to get off the field. This year, we feel they’ve grown up. They’re still young, but we’ve played so many freshmen and sophomores now, that those guys are experienced and they look the part. We don’t have 160-pound linebackers taking on guards anymore.”
Leading the group is 6-1, 210-pound senior Lamar Briggs, a Temple baseball recruit. Alongside him are 6-3, 205-pound freshman Garrett Groulx, 6-1, 205-pound sophomore Matt Stevens, the team’s leading tacker, and 6-2, 195-pound freshman Chase Monroe, whose father played college football with Brett Favre at Southern Mississippi.
“This kid, Chase – he was born to be a linebacker,” Grier said.
Another promising linebacker is junior Trevor Darby. Darby was 6-2, 160 last season but came back at 6-3, 195. He had an emergency appendectomy this week and will miss several games, Grier said.
The Patriots players said the 104-80 win helped fuel this defensive improvement.
Briggs, for instance, had broken his leg earlier in the 2012 season and had to watch the Harrells Christian game from the sideline. Briggs saw his teammate, Florida-bound quarterback Will Grier, throw for a national-record 837 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he also saw his team’s defense struggle. Harrells Christian ran up 717 yards, including 438 on 45 carries from running back Russell Washington.
“I had to sit and watch my team give up that many points,” Briggs said. “I just had to sit and watch that happen. It wasn’t very fun. I think giving up 80 points, though, has a lot to do with what we’re doing now.”
Davidson Day’s first team three years ago was a 10-0 junior varsity squad. The 2011 team played varsity ball for the first time, finished 11-1 and won a state title. The 2012 team repeated. Now, the Patriots feel they have the best team in their brief school history – and certainly their best defense.
“We just knew we were better,” Grier said. “You could tell in 7-on-7s. We always did well because we could score, but we’d get into these tournaments and always say, ‘If we can get off the field once, we’ll have a chance to win.’ But this summer, we were getting turnovers and getting off the field. Sure it was just 7-on-7s but it was noticeably different.
“Nobody was getting free releases and our linebackers were putting hands on people and re-routing them. We knew then our linebacker play would be key.”
Last week, Davidson Day played Harrells Christian again and won 64-14. Harrells had beaten three public schools by a combined 101-20 before that game.
“We were the more physical team,” Grier said. “That’s what we said we wanted to be. We were always too young and too small. Now, all of a sudden, our guys are pretty physical and we get after it on both sides.”
Briggs believes his team has the formula for a third title.
“I’m always confident in my team,” he said. “With the athletes we have, with the way our defense has been playing, we’re not going to give up too many points and we’re going to score plenty.”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr; Facebook.com/queencitypreps
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