Most people that watch football look at defensive backs as the last line of defense for their team on that side of the ball, but for Calhoun, the talented group is so much more.
The cornerbacks and safeties for the Jackets are playmakers that roam the field looking to lock down receivers, make crucial open-field tackles and force their share of turnovers. They are the icing on the cake for a stout defense that already boasts one of the best defensive line and linebacker groups in the state.
Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb said his team’s defensive backs seem to find a way to make an impact on every game, especially lately in the playoffs.
“They are playing very well at this point of the season,” said Lamb. “They aren’t the biggest or tallest group, but they all play with great technique. Defensive back is a difficult position, but our guys have responded to coaching well and been very well-prepared all season. Bralin Barton, Jonkell Tolbert, Logan Parker and a few others are very good at the cornerback position no matter who the receiver is they go up against, and Brannon Spector has been special at safety. He plays the run and pass well and can come up and make big hits.”
Barton, Tolbert and Parker have been the main cornerbacks for the majority of the season, and others have stepped in to provide depth at times with little drop-off, including Payton Morrow and Luke Moseley, among others. Barton leads the team in interceptions with five, including his three-interception performance in last Friday’s Class AAA Final Four win at Cedar Grove. He also has 33 total tackles, one tackle-for-loss and a forced fumble as a junior. Parker has two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown to go with 29 total tackles, Tolbert has 31 total tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery and Morrow and Moseley also have an interception apiece.
Spector moved to safety at the start of the season and has adjusted to the position incredibly well after playing corner as a sophomore. The Clemson commit has 62 total tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Barton said he has been really proud of the progress the group has made this season after not having a lot of experience entering the year.
“We’re still pretty young, mostly juniors, and I think we have played well this year,” said Barton. “Last year I was playing JV, Jonkell didn’t have a lot of experience either going into this season and others were moving around to different positions. But we all worked hard in the weight room to get bigger, faster and stronger, and worked hard in practice to get better.”
Spector said the defensive back group has definitely raised their level of intensity, focus and performance as the postseason has progressed.
“We’ve played well this season, but I think we’ve gotten a lot better the past few weeks,” said Spector. “Our defense as a whole is shutting down good offenses, and we’re working to get stops and turnovers when we need them. The defensive backs have been a big part of that. I think I’ve grown a lot (as a safety) this year too. I think I’ve gotten used to it more and am able to recognize things and make plays more at the end of the season.”
The competitive nature of the group was on display in a big way last Friday as they took on a big challenge against Cedar Grove receiver Jadon Haselwood, who is considered by many to be the top receiver in the country for the 2019 class, and took him almost completely out of the game.
“We were really excited to play against him, and I think we only allowed him to catch two passes,” said Spector. “We had a gameplan to put two people on him almost every play, and even when they tried to get it to other receivers, they weren’t able to very much.”
“We were ready for that challenge,” added Barton. “We knew if we stuck to the gameplan, was disciplined and focus, we would be alright. I was excited and wanted that challenge myself. I wanted to show that height didn’t matter, it was about getting out there, competing and doing what I was coached to do.”
There’s only one challenge left ahead of the Jackets’ DBs and the team as a whole, and that is Friday at 1 p.m. in the Class AAA State Championship Game against Peach County at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Both Barton and Spector know the stakes and are chomping at the bit to play on the big stage.
“We’re excited to play for a state title, especially our defensive backs,” said Barton. “(Peach County) has really good receiver, but just like last week, I know if we stick to the gameplan and play as well as we’re capable of, we’ll be alright.”
“We’ve been working to get to this point all year, and we’ve come a long way, especially the DBs,” added Spector. “Teams think they can throw on us, but we’ve been stopping that. We want to do that again on Friday.”