Defense leads the way for Callaway

Published 2:38 pm Thursday, November 10, 2016

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – The Callaway Cavaliers will bring a perfect record into Friday’s playoff showdown with Model, and a lock-down defense is a big reason why.

In 10 regular-season games, the Cavaliers gave up 126 points, an average of less than 13 points per game, and that number is particularly impressive considering the starters have left a lot of the games early because of blowouts.

Callaway has a group of linebackers who have been accumulating big tackle numbers, a defensive line that has dominated things up front, and a ball-hawking group of defensive backs.

Earlier this season, defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said a key to the team’s success has been putting opposing offenses in bad situations.

“One thing we really put an emphasis on this year is we want to win first down,” Hubbard said. “We don’t want second-and-four. Win first down, create some take-aways, and no matter what, just limit points. We can bend a little bit, but we can’t break. With that being our focus, we’ve done a pretty good job of doing those things.”

Three of Callaway’s leading tacklers are linebackers.

Senior Michael Freeman has 79 tackles, junior Jonathan Leonard has 77 tackles, and sophomore Qua Hines has 54 tackles.

Fellow linebackers Travis Traylor, a senior, and junior Kedrick Ramsey have also been making plays this season.

Leonard, who was primarily a special-teams player a year ago, has been one of Callaway’s top defensive players since Day 1.

“He’s a play-maker. He plays with so much heart,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “He runs to the ball, and he plays with everything he’s got on every single play.”

Freeman, meanwhile, has been a key player on both sides of the ball.

He’s not only the leading tackler on defense, but he’s a critical player on offense from his tight-end position, and he had two touchdown catches in game earlier this season.

Before the season, Freeman said he was ready to be on the field as much as he needed to be.

“At times, I know I’m going to be tired, and I’m going to be running on fumes, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help my teammates, and help my team,” Freeman said. “And I love it. This is what I do.”

Traylor, like Freeman a senior, won the team’s ironman competition before the season, and Hubbard said he’s as fit as anybody on the team.

“Travis is a hard worker. He’s a machine in the weight room,” Hubbard said. “He runs good, too. To be 175, 180 pounds, he’s strong.”

The defensive line is traditionally a position of strength for Callaway, and this year is no exception.

It’s a group that includes seniors Keegan Woods and Thomas Hodge, and juniors Lichon Terrell and Jamie Sellers.

The leading tackler among that group is Terrell with 48, and the numbers only tell part of the story.

He has consistently wreaked havoc on opposing offenses, and even when he doesn’t make the tackle, he is impacting the play.

“I had to step up from last year,” Terrell said. “I had J.T. Wortham. I had to take his place, and step up as a junior.”

Callaway’s secondary has been exceptional this season, with Courtney Williams, Dominic Copeland, Kobe Jackson, DQ Wilkerson, MJ Robertson and Cartavious Bigsby making life difficult for opposing offenses.

In a win over Spencer that wrapped up the region championship, Williams and Copeland both had interceptions, and Jackson returned an interception for a touchdown last week against Jordan.

“I feel like since I’ve been here, this is the best back end of the defense we’ve had,” said Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator since 2005. “The biggest thing is, we’ve got three guys back there that have started for two years. That helps a lot, and their skill set is good. That group has a chance to be really special.”

OF NOTE: For a preview of Callaway’s playoff game against Model, see Friday’s sports section.