Photo by Brian Paglia / Stockbridge football coach Kevin Whitley says the Tigers’ defense starts with middle linebacker Cameron Gordon.
STOCKBRIDGE — When college football titans LSU and Alabama three-and-outed their way to a 9-6 overtime outcome last season, many bemoaned the lack of offense.
Not Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley. He saw everything right about the game of football.
The much-hyped college football defensive battle was everything he’s wanted the Tigers program to be since he took over four years ago.
“You had to love football to watch that game. Tackling, blocking — that’s football!” Whitley said. “That’s what we want to do.”
The Tigers have done it arguably better than any other team in Henry County so far this season.
As Stockbridge (5-1, 1-0 Region 4A-AAAA) enters a crucial sub-region showdown with Dutchtown (5-2, 1-1) this Friday ranked No. 8 in the polls, it does so with its identity clearly defined by a defense that’s allowing just 11.5 points per game. Only Cairo (10.5), Marist (10.7), Chamblee (10.8) and Statesboro (11.0) have been better in Class AAAA.
That’s not by accident. As Whitley began to transform Stockbridge into a playoff caliber program, he concentrated his effort on defense.
While most high school teams work the summer passing league circuit for the benefit of their offense, Whitley uses it to develop a secondary and linebacking corps. Passing leagues aren’t much use for a triple-option offense, anyways, Whitley figured. But he knew they were a great way to give defensive backs and linebackers the opportunity to develop coverage skills.
“Our whole focus is on defense at passing tournaments,” Whitley said. “We feel like we can compete with a good back four.”
Indeed, that’s where Stockbridge has the best mix of experience and talent on defense. Corey Hall and Clifford Lowe are the unit’s only seniors, while Whitley describes juniors Javon Brandon and Kendarius Webster as potential Division I recruits.
But Whitley raves about his defense’s talent all over the field — about junior linebackers Cameron Gordon and Rod Carson, about junior defensive linemen Antonio Mallard and Timarcus Cullins and sophomores Ty Davis and Tyree Turner.
“We’ve been physical in the past, but this team is more physical,” Hall said. “It’s just an all-around better core defense.”
Whitley believes much of the defense’s emergence has been from the stable presence of defensive coordinator Morris Starr, who joined Whitley in 2009. Whitley also added former Mundy’s Mill coach Kenny Barrow to his staff this season to coach linebackers.
“Coach Starr gets all the credit,” Whitley said. “And I think adding Coach Barrow helped tremendously.”
Whitley considers Dutchtown’s offense a tremendous challenge. He quickly fired off the Bulldogs’ inventory of offensive weapons — running backs Will Smith and Malik Barkley, wide receivers Rodel Shorter and Brandon Thomas, an experienced offensive line led by Middle Tennessee commitment Jordan Harris.
And then there’s quarterback Donovahn Jones, whom Whitley likened to former Henry County standout Chris Moody. The Tigers faced Moody twice, losing to him and the Warhawks in overtime two years ago and beating him last season. They’ve already beaten a Jones-led offense once, a 28-12 victory last year.
But even in the midst of unprecedented success, there’s room to improve.
“I know we can be better,” Brandon said. “Just trying to get us to that state championship level.”