Denmark High School opened its doors for the first time in August with a student body consisting entirely of ninth, tenth and eleventh graders. But even without a senior class, the Danes’ athletic department is already seeing a surprisingly high rate of success across its various sports disciplines.
I spoke with head football coach Terry Crowder a year ago about the challenges facing his brand new team as they were preparing for spring practice. The choice to play a full varsity football schedule in the school’s first year presented all sorts of obstacles that had to be worked around. Primarily, players and coaches were all having to commute to the new Forsyth-based campus from their current schools, and practice times had to be pushed back further into the evening in order to account for it. This spring, the situation couldn’t be any more different.
“I’m not going to do spring practice,” said Crowder. “I’m actually going to do the two fall scrimmages instead (Jefferson County and Pickens). …I just really like the two fall scrimmages better. I’ve got some key guys that are playing other sports this spring as well, so I think this is what is going to work out best for us.”
A comprehensive evaluation process was an absolute necessity last spring, but now, Crowder and his coaching staff have a roster that they are not only familiar with, but also has all 22 of its starters returning. It is precisely for this reason, that the Danes will be one of the most intriguing storylines in AAAA, and in the state, when the 2019 season kicks off.
A LOOK BACK
Denmark finished its inaugural season 5-5 and just missed out on earning a playoff berth out of an ultra-competitive Region 7-AAAA.
“We didn’t have any business even thinking we could make the playoffs at first, but then as we got into the season, I know myself, the other coaches and the players, we were really disappointed that we didn’t get in,” said Crowder.
The Danes defeated Cherokee Bluff (43-0), North Springs (39-32) and Class AAAAAAA’s Forsyth Central (7-3) before dropping a 38-21 loss to a ranked Dawson County squad to wrap up their non-region play. Next, the Danes won a 61-47 shootout at Chestatee to open the region slate, but then they fell 48-27 in a home loss to West Hall the following week. The loss to West Hall was especially costly, because Denmark was about to face its four toughest region opponents next (Blessed Trinity, Marist, White County and Flowery Branch) to close out its inaugural season.
Crowder, who has coached in Georgia for nearly three decades—including stops at North Gwinnett as an assistant, Tucker, Burke County, Collins Hill and Camden County as a defensive coordinator, and Chattahoochee and Creekview as a head coach—knew the caliber of opponent that his team would be up against.
“Blessed Trinity and Marist is two different animals,” said Crowder. “I had played Blessed Trinity every year when I was at Creekview and I had also played Marist before. It’s just a different animal and our kids weren’t ready for it. They just absolutely were not ready and we kind of had that sneaking suspicion.”
Blessed Trinity served up a humbling 47-6 defeat that gave Denmark back-to-back region losses. The Marist game went even worse. Denmark was down 7-0 after the first quarter, but a disastrous second quarter that included five Marist touchdowns in less than two minutes propelled the War Eagles to a 50-7 halftime lead and 57-7 win.
The lopsided losses and three game losing streak, however, proved to be more of wakeup call than something that dispirited the Danes. The team climbed back from a 28-14 deficit against White County in its next outing to win 29-28 and keep its playoff hopes alive. The season ended, however, with a hard-fought 28-19 loss to Flowery Branch the following week. It’s worth noting that this same Flowery Branch team pushed two-time defending champion Blessed Trinity to the brink in 2018, but lost 21-20 after unsuccessfully gambling on a game-deciding two-point conversion.
BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER
Denmark’s overall performance in 2018 is an encouraging sign for the 2019 season, and beyond. Crowder stated that his roster is at least 100 pounds stronger across the board from this past year, and after getting first-hand experience playing against the top tier of Class AAAA, there is an understanding of what it is going to take to achieve the high goals they are setting in 2019.
“I think those big losses can show your kids and your coaches what it takes, so that part of it has been really good for us,” explained Crowder. “After playing Blessed Trinity, Marist and Flowery Branch, we know our kids know what it takes now. We know how strong those teams were and how fast they were. We have really gotten after it in the weight room and we feel like we taken major strides. …I think our kids are thinking even higher than just reaching the playoffs. I think our kids, with 22 starters coming back and everybody being a lot stronger—and hopefully Blessed Trinity can’t be as good as they have been the last couple years. So our kids are going to be talking about making the playoffs, winning a region championship and advancing in the playoffs, and as coaches, we feel like we have the guys that can do that.”
Quarterback Ben Whitlock put up big numbers in 2018 and his stock is climbing in the recruiting realm this offseason with his performances at various showcases and camps.
“Ben was like a shining light for us this past season,” said Crowder. “We had no idea what we had. He came in with zero career starts and then ended up throwing for 2,800 yards and played great most of the year. So that was something that really surprised us and he was much better than we could’ve thought.”
All-state wide receiver Ze’Vian Capers will be the top target, and is also on Denmark’s baseball and basketball team. Capers is currently committed to Crowder’s alma mater, Arkansas.
“Ze’Vian a lot of the times is the best player on the field,” said Crowder. “The other big playmaker in our receiving corps is Teddy Davenport. Teddy is our inside slot and a lot of times plays on the same side as Ze’Vian. He is just a little baller. He understands the game and he makes great catches. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Davis at Blessed Trinity that made spectacular plays for the last four years. Teddy does things that you don’t expect him to do, but he can flat out get it done.”
The Danes’ backfield will feature junior Devin duCille, a 4.0 student, 7-AAAA Second Team All-Region Selection and 5-foot-11, 211-pound back that compliments Denmark’s dangerous passing game and provides a power run option.
“Devin is close to my heart since I coached his dad back at Tucker,” said Crowder. “He is a big strong kid with great hands and great feel for the game, so I think Devin is going to be pretty good next year as well.”
In addition to the 22 returning starters, the program will also have newcomers to bolster the roster. This includes, former Buford quarterback Aaron McLaughlin, whose transfer to Denmark will certainly present a quarterback battle with Whitlock. The 6-foot-5 McLaughlin already holds 30 offers, including Auburn, Michigan, Arkansas, Alabama and Ole Miss.
Defensively, returning team captain and First Team All-Region linebacker Zach Burchfield provides the Danes with a physical 6-foot-2, 230-pound presence.
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