When Denmark opened last year, the school came with 110 acres, state-of-the-art facilities, and a target on the back of the football team.
Sprinkle in a few high-profile transfers and grandiose expectations, and the Danes now find themselves as public enemy No. 1 in Forsyth County.
So, when the Danes host Forsyth Central at 7:30 p.m. today, it's understood that fans of other area schools might find themselves pulling for the Bulldogs.
That's OK. Denmark doesn't mind.
“I for sure want to go out there and do my thing and do what we do and beat up on them," quarterback Aaron McLaughlin said. "I guess it’s a little bit of motivation when we’re like, ‘Wow, they hate us, so let’s keep making them hate us even more.’”
McLaughlin played at Buford last year, while Jordan Brunson was South Forsyth's running back. Top linebacker C.J. Ford also came from South Forsyth, and around this time a year ago running back Zach Ogbogu was at Lambert.
All now play for Denmark.
Some of those newcomers have been Denmark's biggest contributors this year.
McLaughlin was 6-of-12 passing for 58 yards and two touchdowns last week in a 63-0 win against North Springs. Brunson scored twice and ran for 138 yards despite carrying the ball just 11 times. Ford had four tackles and a sack for a Denmark defense that pitched a shutout and hasn't given up a point this season. Ogbogu led the team in receiving yards, hauling in one pass for 24 yards, while also carrying the ball four times for 32 yards and two touchdowns.
“We have had some move-ins this season, but the guys are all friends," Denmark coach Terry Crowder said. "They come in, and they’ve taken in that we’re Denmark, and we’re going to be proud of that. We just worry about ourselves and don’t worry about the stuff on the outside."
But it's difficult to tune out all of the noise, especially with the constant, instantaneous presence of social media.
“Yeah, just like people saying stuff on Twitter. All the student sections have Twitter accounts," McLaughlin said. "I don’t really care; I think it’s funny. I guess it’s a little bit of motivation for all of us.”
Not much fazes McLaughlin, a four-star quarterback who is committed to Auburn.
In fact, he seems to be at his best when under duress.
Such was the case last week against North Springs just before halftime. As McLaughlin took the snap from the Spartans' 5-yard line, a North Springs linebacker shot straight through the A gap with his sight set on Denmark's quarterback. McLaughlin scrambled to his right, where he suddenly had a defensive end in his face. So, McLaughlin circled back around and rolled to his left, where he fired a strike to wide receiver Ze'Vian Capers — another former South Forsyth player — who snared the ball and barreled into the end zone.
“Aaron’s just an elite passer in the United States," Crowder said. "(Offensive coordinator Steve) Sarkisian from Alabama told me that at any level he’s an elite guy. So, he can make all the throws, he’s mobile, he’s big, he’s smart. He’s been quarterback since he was a little bitty kid, so this is what he’s meant to do.”
McLaughlin, who stands 6-foot-5 at 223 pounds, said he sees his mobility as one of his strengths.
“I think throwing the ball is the best thing I do," McLaughlin said, "but when
things break down and I have to play with my feet and expand plays, I do that
very well, too. So, it’s definitely an asset that I have.”
Denmark's quarterback might find himself relying on that mobility tonight against Central.
The Bulldogs, who lost last year's game to Denmark 7-3, are plenty motivated after dropping 15-7 game to Cass last week.
Senior defensive end Alex Szakacs had three sacks, deflected two passes, blocked a kick and forced a fumble in the loss. Central has given up just 25 points in two games, with seven of those points coming on a scoop-and-score during last week's loss.
“Any time you play somebody inside the county like this — this is our big rival game for right now," Crowder said. "We know these people, they know us, so we want to win this for bragging rights within the county. So, this is a big deal for the kids.”