Thompson Defense: Playmakers
Defensive Coordinator Shawn Defoor is still chasing that perfect season at Thompson.
Defoor’s work on defense is well-documented. From 2011 to 2014 Spanish Fort defenses gave up an average of just 12 points a game in a run that included two state championships and two other deep playoff runs.
In 2013, the Toro defense overwhelmed opponents allowing a minuscule 8.5 points per game—including three shutouts. Spanish Fort completed a historic season going 15-0 with a stunning 34-point margin of victory.
In five years at Thompson, Defoor has stayed consistent with Warrior defenses allowing 19 points per game in arguably the best division in Alabama high school football.
But the man they aptly call Coach D wants more.
“We have yet to put together a whole season of our best performance and that’s what we are looking for,” says Defoor.
Despite giving up more points than he’d like, the Warriors have been making big plays the last two seasons totaling 235 tackles for loss, 65 sacks and forcing 50 turnovers in that span.
The 2019 defense saved its best performance for last in the championship game holding Central-Phenix City to 14 points, 9/10 stops on third down and a season-high 12 tackles for loss as the Warriors exacted revenge from the 2018 state championship.
Oh, did we mention Thompson replaced their entire secondary in 2019? In 20 years of coaching, Defoor had never had to complete such a task. But you’d be hard-pressed to argue with the results.
“It was a challenging job to try and play the level that we want to play at and balance it with ‘Hey, you’re going to make some mistakes.’ My deal is effort. Are you working to get better?”
Now, the Warriors look to carry the momentum from the championship through the most trying offseason in recent memory. Even with the unknown factors going forward, Shawn believes this could be his best defense since that magical season in 2013.
“This year I’m super excited, we could be special this year defensively.”
It starts with returning nearly the entire secondary, all three starting linebackers and elite talent at every level of the defense that will allow Defoor and his coaches to be very flexible in terms of what they want to throw out at opposing offenses.
Junior linebacker Jeremiah Alexander headlines a stacked unit along with fellow MaxPreps preseason All-Americans Peter Woods and Tony Mitchell. All have been making plays since their freshman years, but as an upperclassman, Alexander has an impeccable resume so far.
The five star prospect is ranked first at his position and the state for the class of 2022 racking up 14.5 sacks and 41 tackles for loss in his first two seasons. Head Coach Mark Freeman and Defoor know they can play Alexander in multiple spots and expect results.
“Jeremiah can play anywhere for us whether it’s defensive end, outside or inside linebacker,” says Freeman. “He’s worked hard, runs a 4.6 40, he’s strong, he strikes you well, great fundamentals.”
He’s joined by two equally versatile linebackers in juniors Jax Van Zandt and Nate Riddle that make up perhaps the most experienced unit on the entire Warriors roster. Van Zandt has also been a starter at linebacker since his freshman year and enjoyed a great sophomore season with 75 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks with a blocked punt. According to his coaches, Riddle is perhaps the most versatile true LB appearing in multiple formations and also had success last year with 53 tackles, five for loss, two sacks and forced two fumbles—one he returned for a touchdown.
“The versatility of those guys, you can’t put a price on it. All of them can do multiple things and they all have their own specific skill set,” says LB coach John Jones. “That versatility helps us be multiple in our defense and puts stress on other offensive coordinators.”
Coach Jake Ganus and Jones will be looking to build up depth leading up to the season after being incredibly deep at the position last year. Guys like junior Ahmari Bolden, senior Triston Woody and sophomore Seth Hampton will be relied on to step up when needed. Bolden will also work with Tony Mitchell at the team’s “Star” LB position.
Mitchell, an exceptional cover man and open-field tackler with a long list of scholarship offers already, will work all over the secondary along with senior Gavin Shipman who can play at cornerback or safety as well. Shipman had a breakout year in 2019 blocking ten passes, adding several tackles for loss and has the most interceptions of any returning Warrior starter with five. It’s also appropriate to mention he has offers from Harvard and Princeton.
Defoor and defensive backs coach Jordan Robertson know the duo will give them a lot of freedom to place the rest of their secondary in their positions of strength. They are looking for junior Karsten Haywood and senior Brandon Holifield to set the tone from the cornerback spots and become playmakers of their own.
Senior safety EJ Edwards also brings back experience from a junior year where he snatched a couple of interceptions, blocked four passes and a punt to go with 44 tackles. Junior Trevor Hardy will also provide depth at the position.
The unbelievable depth of the defensive line in 2019 was the gift that kept on giving. Seniors Damion Ugbo, Montaj Cook and Tyger Faavi piled up 40 tackles for loss last year as they became a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen and running backs alike. Pairing that with a ten man rotation along the line and Peter Woods’ phenomenal freshman year, the rush was unreal.
All Peter did was virtually mirror Jeremiah Alexander’s freshman season with 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He is a 6’4” 273 pound baby-faced assassin that runs a 4.8 second 40 yard dash. Imagine if Steph Curry ate Steph Curry. That’s Peter Woods. And defensive line coach Woodrow Briggs let us know he stepped up his game in the offseason.
“Peter has had a great off-season, he’s probably put on 20 to 25 pounds,” said Briggs. “He’s probably the strongest in the weight room all around. I’m really excited to see how he performs this year.”
The defensive line is a group of all sizes and shapes with seniors like K’Marion Hambright, Greg Green and Kobe Stewart returning with lots of reps from last year’s championship run.
“We have some potential, not having a spring did hurt us to actually see the depth, but while we may not have the experience we may still have as many bodies to sub at that level,” says Briggs.
Another packed rotation is the last thing Warriors’ opponents need with the ability to blitz LBs and DBs at any moment. Senior K’Marion Hambright has seen action along the line since his sophomore year and has made plays each season. Briggs sees him as the leader and says at over 300 pounds he still has the quickest first step on the unit.
“When he speaks they are listening,” says Briggs. “I️ told him the group is going to be as good as he allows us to be. When he’s not on the field he’s just as locked in as he is on the field. I’ve put a lot on his shoulders and he’s showed up.”
Greg Green and Kobe Stewart bring great length and experience as defensive ends who can pressure QBs. Green is 6’4” with an incredible wingspan who already has eight offers and Kobe Stewart made several big plays last year with 21 tackles, two TFLs and two forced fumbles. Briggs also mentioned guys like senior Keegan Eason and juniors AJ Allen and Kaleb Thompson who will have to step in to keep everyone fresh in the trenches.
The Warriors’ have next level difference makers in every layer of their defense that will allow a cast of upperclassmen to become playmakers of their own in 2020. It’s easy to see what has Shawn Defoor excited about this fall.