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PIGSKIN PREVIEW: Denmark battling sky-high expectations in second season
It's playoffs or bust for Denmark this year, and Zach Burchfield, Ze'Vian Capers, Aaron McLaughlin, Nick Carozza and Jordan Brunson will have big roles to fill in achieving that goal. - photo by Ben Hendren

Terry Crowder thought he’d done quite well.

After guiding Denmark’s football team through its inaugural season, he wasn’t wrong to feel that way. Playing a full varsity schedule with no seniors as part of perhaps the best region in Class 4A, the Danes ended 2018 with a respectable 5-5 record.

But the satisfaction of that accomplishment was quickly eclipsed by the remarkable successes that some of Denmark’s other athletic teams went on to have. Boys basketball made the state quarterfinals, and the baseball team made an improbable run to the state championship series. All of a sudden, the pressure was right back on Crowder’s football team to deliver.

“We feel like now we have to make up some ground ourselves,” Crowder said right after taking the podium at this year’s Forsyth Sports Media Day.

Thankfully for the Danes, they’ll not only return basically everyone from last year, but they’ve also added some new, high-profile names that they hope can help them take the next step to being a program that can compete deep into the playoffs.

“With the addition of some of the guys we got, we know they are big time college football guys,” Crowder said. “We know that they’re going to make us better, but the other (thing) you start going through is, last year it was low expectations for this football team, but this year it’s very high expectations. 5-5 ain’t even close to what we want to be this year.”

Perhaps the biggest name to join the Denmark fold is junior quarterback Aaron McLaughlin, who transferred in from Buford after last season. He’d been a starter for the Wolves in each of his last two seasons, leading that team to a 21-5 overall record over that span. With a 6-foot-4, 225 pound frame and a powerful throwing arm, he’s a natural fit for Denmark’s spread offense. He recently committed to Auburn, and for Crowder, he’s one of the best fits for his offense since Timmy Byerly, who he coached during Chattahoochee’s state title run in 2010.

“He can run, his decision making is really good, so it’s just everything that you need,” Crowder said. “He picked up the offense really, really fast, the kids respect him and the thing that I loved about Aaron when he came in is he worked his way to that spot. He didn’t come in thinking it was given to him. We’re grateful to have him, and we’re looking forward to seeing if we can’t make him better somehow, too.”

Also joining the Danes are a few names from around Forsyth County. Running back Jordan Brunson and linebacker CJ Ford transferred in from South Forsyth, and running back Zach Ogbogu joined the Danes from Lambert.

Brunson, a Virginia Tech commit, led the War Eagles with 935 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns during his junior year. Ford racked up 93 total tackles and 4.5 sacks for South in 2018.

The new additions don’t account for all of Denmark’s talent, though. Wide receiver and Auburn commit Ze’Vian Capers is returning for his senior year after leading the county with 1,182 yards and 11 touchdowns, as are standout linebackers Nick Carozza and Zach Burchfield.

Capers and Carozza had to play both ways last year, but the Danes feel like they have enough depth to avoid doing that again this year, which should help them feel more rested. With no bye weeks until November, that could be a nice boost.

With no seniors, Denmark was a team playing above its years last season. With so many expectations a year later, the Danes hope that experience can help them play at a level that can make them a legitimate threat.

“We looked good for (being) just juniors,” defensive lineman Arthur Marsden said. “We didn’t play like juniors — we played like seniors, I think. Now that we’re actually seniors, I think we’re going to look real good.”