Defense shines for Cavaliers
Published 12:42 am Saturday, October 19, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Callaway Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals last season in large part because of a lock-down defense that was dominant from beginning to end.
When Callaway lost to Rockmart in the state semifinals, though, that was the end of the line for nearly every major contributor on that defense.
There were, in fact, only two underclassmen that were starters on defense last season, linebacker R.J. Williams and defensive back Jalin Shephard.
Naturally as the 2019 season approached, a major question concerning the Cavaliers was how a new-look defense would perform.
Any concerns about Callaway’s rebuilt defense have been put to rest, though.
The Cavaliers have given up 14 or fewer points in six of their seven games, and the starting defense didn’t allow any points in a 44-7 win over the previously unbeaten Lamar County Trojans last week.
The defense will try to continue standing tall when Callaway travels to Columbus on Saturday to play Spencer, with kickoff set for 3 p.m.
“I’m just excited about how hard they’re playing. That’s the biggest thing,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator. “We’ve got a lot of solid high-school football players, but it’s a good group that plays hard. Do we always do things right, no, but for the most part it’s hard to turn on our film and find anybody loafing.”
Callaway was hit the hardest by graduation on the defensive line, with nearly everyone who had any significant playing time moving on.
Under the tutelage of defensive-line coach Jamal Bruce, though, that unit has developed into a strength of the team.
The starters on the defensive line are Anthony Elliott, Keshawn Suggs, Jabari Smith and Tra Stephens.
“We’ve gotten better as the year’s gone along, and especially I have to give coach Bruce a big part of the credit,” Hubbard said. “He’s done a good job with our defensive line. That’s where we really didn’t have returners. We had to move guys around. We’ve got linebackers playing down there, and they’ve done a great job. (Bruce has) worked his tail off with those guys, and I’m proud of them.”
The defensive player with the most varsity experience is R.J. Williams, but he’s missed significant time with an injury and likely won’t return for a few more weeks.
In Williams’ absence, starting offensive lineman Austin Thomas has been filling in at linebacker, and Charlie Dixon and Ladarious Williams have also played well at that position.
Williams, Hubbard said, earned his starting spot by performing well in junior-varsity games earlier this season.
“What helped him was watching him play JV,” Hubbard said. “He made a mark in a couple of JV games and we felt good about him. We felt like if we could get guys that could run, and tackle, we’d be OK. That’s what he did, and that’s why he stuck.”
In the secondary, Jalin Shephard is having another big season, and Jymere Jones and Osiris Rivas are also starting at defensive back.
Callaway has an explosive offense, but there have been a few games where points have been difficult to come by.
When the offense does struggle, Hubbard figures it’s up to the defense to keep the Cavaliers in the game.
“If our offense is struggling, just give them time, and keep us in the game, and they’ll get it rolling,” Hubbard said.