In football, offenses are often put in the spotlight with quarterbacks, receivers and running backs getting a lion's share of the attention from media and fans.
But many coaches believe that defense is the cornerstone of the game — and there was no shortage of game-changing defensive players in the Coastal Empire this year.
Calvary Day had an excellent defensive unit that allowed fewer than 10 points per game as the Cavaliers rolled to a region title and to the GHSA Class A Private state quarterfinals, finishing their season with a 12-1 record.
Class 4A state champion Benedictine was known for its prolific offense, led by Auburn-bound senior quarterback Holden Geriner, but the Cadets' defense improved dramatically as the season progressed and played a vital role in BC's playoff run.
The All-Greater Savannah Defensive Football Teams are announced today and feature Calvary Day standouts Troy Ford Jr., Terry Simmons, A.J. Butts and Juwan Johnson, while the Cadets also are well represented with players such as Holden Sapp and Mac Kromenhoek on the squad. Savannah Christian's Peyton Cromwell, the Region 3-A Private Defensive Player of the Year, also is a first-team selection.
The first-team selections also are all nominees for the Defensive Football Player of the Year for the Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards, presented by Georgia Ports Authority, to be held in the spring. It is brought to you with support from Chatham Orthopaedic Associates and Savannah Coca-Cola. The winner will be the announced at the show. More details about the program are coming soon.
During the live show, these nominees will be honored, along with the top three finalists and the player of the year. All official nominees can receive a free ticket. Check back later in the year for information on how to RSVP.
The Coastal Empire High School Sports Awards show is part of the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards, the largest high school sports recognition program in the country.
All-Greater Savannah Defensive Football Teams
TERRY SIMMONS, Calvary Day, DL, jr.
Simmons had a dominating year up front for the Cavaliers with 67 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss, three sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder has offers including Northwestern, Georgia Southern, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan and Georgia State. He was an All-Region 3-A Private first-team selection and an honorable mention all-state pick by the AJC.
TROY FORD, Calvary Day, LB, jr.
Ford was a game changer with his athletic ability and non-stop motor for the Cavs. He had 51 tackles, including 13 TFL and four sacks with 13 QB hurries, four passes defended and a pair of fumble recoveries. An All-Region 3-A Private first-team pick, he was an all-state first-team selection by the AJC. Ford has a slew of offers and announced his top eight teams last week as Notre Dame, Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, UCF, Texas and West Virginia.
HOLDEN SAPP, Benedictine, LB, sr.
Sapp was a leader on a Cadets defense that came on strong to propel the team to a state title. He had 123 tackles, including 17 for losses, with four sacks and six quarterback hurries. Sapp had five interceptions, two passes defended and a fumble recovery. He had three pick-sixes and 158 yards on interception returns. The Region 3-4A Defensive Player of the Year was a first-team all-state pick by the AJC and has committed to play at West Point.
PEYTON CROMWELL, Savannah Christian, LB, sr.
Cromwell had 141 tackles, including 12 for losses, and had one interception and three passes defended. The senior was named the Region 3-A Private Defensive Player of the Year. He was an all-state honorable mention selection by the AJC.
MAC KROMENHOEK, Benedictine, LB, sr.
Kromenhoek was a vital cog on the Cadets defense with 77 tackles, including 16.5 for losses. He had team-highs with 6.5 sacks and nine quarterback hurries. The All-Region 3-4A first-team pick has an offer from Sewanee.
ELIJAH GRIFFIN, Savannah Christian, DL, fr.
Griffin entered his first year of high school ball already having an offer to play for Georgia. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder had an impressive freshman campaign with 69 tackles, including eight for losses and 3.5 sacks. The All-Region 3-A Private first-team selection later picked up offers from Penn State, Coastal Carolina and UCF.
KEYSEAN MCCARR, Effingham County, DL, jr.
McCarr was a key contributor in a turnaround season for the Rebels with his solid play in the trenches. He had 48 tackles and 12 sacks, earning All-Region 2-6A first-team honors.
COLE SEMIEN, Benedictine, DL, jr.
The 6-2, 270-pounder was a key man in the Cadets' playoff run with his ability to rush the passer and stop the run. He had 68 tackles, including 10 for losses, to go along with five sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries. Semien has taken unofficial visits to several Power 5 schools and picked up an offer from Georgia State this week.
SHA'RON MCGERT, Islands, DL, jr.
McGert was a force up front for the Sharks and earned All-Region 3-4A first-team honors. He had 34 tackles, including 11 for losses, with four sacks, a safety, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries — including one returned for a touchdown.
TAVION GADSON, Jenkins, LB, jr.
Gadson had an excellent season with the Warriors as the 6-4, 265-pounder helped lead the defense. He had 60 tackles, six sacks, three caused fumbles and two quarterback hurries and was an All-Region 3-4A first-team pick. He has an offer from Georgia State.
AMEER PHILLIPS, Beach, LB, sr.
Phillips had a strong showing in his final year at Beach with 125 tackles, including 11 for losses with a pair of sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two blocked field goals. Phillips was named the Region 3-3A Defensive Player of the Year and has offers including Savannah State and Carthage College in Wisconsin.
ANTONIO "A.J." BUTTS, Calvary Day, LB, so.
Butts had a breakthrough season for the Cavaliers as the sophomore made big-time contributions on both sides of the ball. He had 132 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss with a pair of sacks. He had four interceptions and also was a playmaker offensively as he ran for 296 yards and five scores, with one catch for a 64-yard touchdown. He was a Region 3-A Private first-team selection.
TRAYVON SAVAGE, Windsor Forest, LB, sr.
Savage anchored the Knights defense and had 116 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss. He intercepted six passes, returning three of them for touchdowns. He was an All-Region 3-3A first-team selection.
ELI LEIATAUA, Bradwell Institute, LB, sr.
Leiataua was named Region 2-6A's Defensive Player of the Year. The standout linebacker has offers including Reinhardt University and Missouri Baptist.
TUCKER WILSON, Effingham County, LB, sr.
The senior was an anchor of the Rebels defense at linebacker as he racked up 120 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss and three sacks, with two fumble recoveries. Wilson was an All-Region 2-6A first-team selection.
BRYCE BAKER, Benedictine, LB, so.
Baker was a vital part of the Cadets defense as an inside linebacker with a nose for the ball. He led the Cadets with 129 tackles, including, 12.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks. He caused a pair of fumbles and recovered another and was an All-Region 3-4A first-team selection.
JALEEL ANDREW, Liberty County, LB, sr.
Andrew led the Panthers, the Region 3-3A champions, with 87 tackles including 12 for loss, and had a pair of sacks and an interception in nine games. He was an All-Region 3-3A first-team selection.
RODNEY WADE, New Hampstead, LB, sr.
Wade led the Phoenix with 82 tackles in 10 games, with nine tackles for loss. Wade was an All-Region 3-4A first-team selection. He has an offer from Wingate.
ABASI SCOTT, Windsor Forest, DB/ATH, sr.
Scott was named the Region 3-3A Athlete of Year. He had 51 tackles with four interceptions and six pass breakups. He caught 20 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns and returned a pair of kicks for scores. Scott has committed to Northern Illinois.
LANGSTON LEWIS, Islands, DB/ATH, sr.
As a defensive back, Lewis also had 24 tackles, six interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, and two forced fumbles. He returned a fumble for a score and had a kickoff return for a touchdown in a loss to Benedictine. As a receiver, Lewis had 27 catches for 280 yards and two scores. The All-Region 3-4A selection has signed to play at Central Michigan.
ASHLEY THOMPSON, Effingham County, DB, jr.
Thompson starred in the secondary for an Effingham defense that allowed 18 points per game. The junior had seven interceptions for the Rebels and was an All-Region 2-6A first-team selection.
JUWAN JOHNSON, Calvary Day, DB, sr.
Johnson anchored the secondary for the Cavs and helped lead them to a Region 3-A Private crown and to the state playoff quarterfinals. He had 36 tackles, including four for losses, with five interceptions, four passes defended and a caused fumble. An All-Region first-team pick, he has offers from schools such as Army and Gardner-Webb.
TOMMY BLISS, Richmond Hill, DB, sr.
Bliss came back after missing most of his junior year with a broken femur. He had 66 tackles with three passes defended, while blocking three punts and two field-goal attempts. Bliss was an All-Region 2-6A first-team selection.
BEN HOLLERBACH, Benedictine, DB, sr.
Hollerbach was strong against the pass and laid some memorable hard hits throughout the season. He had 66 tackles, including three for losses, and had four interceptions, nine pass breakups, two caused fumbles and a fumble recovery. Hollerbach was an All-Region 3-4A first-team selection.
Walter Mathis, Calvary Day, DL, fr.
Caleb Womble, Savannah Christian, DL, sr.
Jaleeh Kearse, Johnson, DL, sr.
Jah'zir Williams, Liberty County, DL, jr.
Christian Johnson-Hall, New Hampstead, DL, sr.
D'Angelo Sheppard, Jenkins, DL, sr.
Michael Smith, Benedictine, DL, sr.
Mikah Kent, Bradwell Institute, DL, sr.
Josiah Tate, Savannah High, DL, sr.
Cooper Bachman, Islands, LB, sr.
Anthony Kusilka, St. Andrew's, LB, sr.
David Bucey, Savannah Christian, LB, so.
Kamerion Lanigan, Calvary Day, LB, so.
Jashard Richey, Jenkins, DB, sr.
Keshon Leggett, Jenkins, DB, jr.
Russell Wright, Islands, DB, sr.
Tyler Cooper, New Hampstead, DB, sr.
Luke Kromenhoek, Benedictine, DB, so.
Bodie Custer, Richmond Hill, LB, sr.
Jahmare Generlette, Savannah High, LB, sr.
Barry Young, Calvary Day, DB, sr.
Caleb Easterling, Richmond Hill, DB, fr.
Caleb Williams, Effingham County, DB, sr.
Anthony Cooper, Johnson, DB, jr.
Caz Creasy, Liberty County, DB, sr.
Trevor Strowbridge, Calvary Day, DB, so.
James Summersett, Liberty County, DB, jr.
Rasheed Knowles, Windsor Forest, DL, sr.
Austin Clemons, Bryan County, LB, so.
Tanner Ennis, Bryan County, DB, so.
Ronald Polite, Beach, DL, sr.
Beach—Jermaine Saxon, Jayden Gordon, Shammarie Hugie
Benedictine—LaMont Mitchell, Jakobe Gadsden, Henry Hale, Wilkes Albert
Bethesda—Triston Randall, Michael Hanley, Mason Wilson
Bradwell Institute—Mikah Kent, Mike Prince, Kamarion Melvin
Bryan County—Tarrell Singleton, Kris Martin, Konner Leggett, Jacari Carney
Calvary Day—Jamari Brooks, Caden Arnold, Dayyan O'Neal, John Offer, Jordan Davis, Garrhet Manning, Brian Joiner, Ethan Anderson
Effingham County—Miquel Allen, Khiry Wallace
Groves—Malachi Walker, Julian Miller, Basheire Blige, Bryan Wells
Islands—Tavare Brewton, Roland Ferguson, Connor Thompson, Jackson Elms, Kenny Wilder, Mitchell Singletary
Jenkins—Jeremiah James, Jelani Simmons, Troy Smith, Joshua Gadson, Trenton Smith, Lorenzo Cowen, Vincent White
Johnson—Michael Ellison, Jermaine Holzendorf, Jacari Walker, James Gerald, Mikaree Stafford, Jamori Taylor
Liberty County—Carlos Singleton, Maddox Logue, Demarai Booker, Mason Diaz
Memorial Day—Amare Drew, Corey Jackson
New Hampstead—Zion Griffin, Zach Pearson, Terrell Headman, Aaziah Scott, Chadwlick Seymore
Richmond Hill—Ryan Steele, Zion Gillard, Gilbert Brown, Hayden McCullough, Rahmaan Moore,
Savannah High—Marcellus Larry, Donald Hardy, Malachi Grant
Savannah Christian—Austin Saylor, Ely Brown, Jayden Hester, Carter Allen, Paulus Zittrauer, Akeem Lane, Ethan Byrd, Matthew Gunn
Savannah Country Day—Karlo Jukic, Phil Ajayi, Brooks Kleinpeter, Deanre Jackson, Maddox Rahimi, John Neely, Keith James, Zach Bueno
South Effingham—Louis Hicks
St. Andrew's—Zayden Edwards, Zyere Edwards, Ethan Bland, Cameron Helle
Windsor Forest—Kerwin Tattnall, Sam Whitley, Jashawn Gibbs, Marvin Gaines, Zach Patterson, Jaylen Jackson.
The All-Greater Savannah Football Coach of the Year and Offensive Teams were published online Wednesday at savannahnow.com/sports and in print editions Thursday of the Savannah Morning News.
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Dknight@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Calvary's Troy Ford among All-Greater Savannah football defensive teams