Denmark rode a stellar defense to the program's first-ever region championship last fall. While the Danes will expect to take a step forward offensively in 2022, the team's hopes of repeating likely rest on the shoulders of the defense once again.
Last fall, Denmark allowed a total of 147 points in 11 games — an average of just over 13 points per contest, the second-best mark in Class 7A. That average drops to 11.2 points per game when removing the 35-21 season-ending loss to Grayson in the second round of the state playoffs.
"They have pride," head coach Mike Palmieri said of his defense. "They know we finished second in the state the last two years in total defense. We're looking to be No. 1 this year. They practice like it.
"The coaches understand what our players do well, and they play to their strengths."
During the regular season, the Danes didn't allow more than 17 points in a single game. However, due to some offensive inconsistency, Denmark dropped two of those contests.
Even still, the Danes captured the Region 6-7A title, and that served as a major confidence-booster throughout the offseason.
"We're a high-level program, and we proved it to other people," senior wide receiver Lake Thoman said. "People inside this program knew what we were capable of. Just being able to do it gave us more confidence going into this year. It gave us a big boost."
It would make sense for Denmark (8-3, 5-1 in 2021) to take a significant step forward on offense this year.
Senior running back Amon Williams returns after compiling 976 total yards, including 855 on the ground, last fall. Williams scored four offensive touchdowns, matching Dee Crayton and Thoman for the team lead.
Crayton and Thoman are both back, as well. The former will be asked to anchor the Danes defense from his middle linebacker spot but could still see a few carries per game. The latter paced Denmark in receptions (34) and receiving yards (603).
Meanwhile, quarterback Jacob Nelson will enter his junior campaign with a full year of experience under his belt.
"He's gotten stronger; he's gotten more mature," Palmieri said of Nelson. "We expect great things out of Jacob. He had a good season last year. He was only a sophomore. He learned a lot.
"I think the players around him have gotten a lot better, too. That helps when you've got good players around your young quarterback. I think these guys will be able to pick him up, and he'll pick them up."
It will help Nelson and Co. that Shamurad Umarov is still blocking for the Danes. A 6-foot-6, 337-pound mountain, who is rated as one of the top offensive tackles in the country and best overall players in the state of Georgia, Umarov announced his intent last month to play collegiately at Tennessee.
With Crayton, the reigning Forsyth County News defensive player of the year, roaming the middle of the field, Denmark brings the type of imposing presence that every standout defense needs. The Clemson commit, who is ranked just two spots below Umarov among Georgia high school seniors, managed 91 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and five sacks last year.
Overall, the Danes retained enough key pieces from their region championship season to certainly challenge for another title this fall.
"Winning the region championship helped us with the confidence in the locker room and in the weight room," senior linebacker Charley Cronier said. "But at the end of the day, we show up and do the same thing — regardless of whether it's a win or a loss."