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SPRING SIDELINES: Expectations high for Denmark entering second season

Spring Sidelines 2019 Episode 6: Denmark

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Denmark head football coach is thankful for the success of his coaching colleagues – sort of.

When the Danes went 5-5, a hair from making the playoffs, in their first-ever season this past fall, it was seen as a considerable success. They stacked up against bigger, older teams. They beat Forsyth Central, a team that went to the playoffs in Class 7A. They whipped up plenty of excitement for the next season, based on the fact that they were set to return their entire team.

Then the Danes’ boys basketball team, coached by Tyler Whitlock, went out and won the Region 7-4A title and made the state quarterfinals. And then the baseball team, coached by David Smart, went on one of the wildest and most unexpected runs in county history, all the way to the state championship series.

As high as the expectations were for Crowder and the Danes in December, they sure aren’t any lower now.

“(The other coaches) aren’t helping me out at all, with the success that they’re having,” Crowder said. “But I welcome that. I’m not scared of that.”

Denmark will be glad that Crowder feels that way, because the Danes should enter the fall as one of the favorites for success not just in their region, but in the entirety of Class 4A, thanks to more returning contributors than just about anybody else and the addition of a few more talents from nearby schools.

Two of those additions come from just down the road, at South Forsyth, as running back Jordan Brunson and linebacker C.J. Ford, both first team All-County players in 2018, have transferred in. Brunson led Region 5-7A in rushing as a junior, with 933 yards on 198 carries, and Ford had 95 tackles with 4.5 sacks.

And the most impactful addition of all could be Aaron McLaughlin, a rising junior quarterback from Buford. McLaughlin started as a freshman and sophomore for the state powerhouse Wolves before transferring after former head coach John Ford was let go, and he holds offers from high-major schools across the country, like Michigan, USC and Alabama.

McLaughlin, a 6-foot-4 pro-style quarterback with a cannon arm, came to Denmark with the possibilities offered by the Danes’ spread offense in mind, and Crowder has been plenty impressed by what he’s seen.

“Aaron is awfully talented,” Crowder said. “Probably as talented of a quarterback as I’ve ever had.”

He’s being pushed, though, by Ben Whitlock, a rising senior who started every game for Denmark last fall and wound up as one of the most productive passers in the state, with 2,713 yards and 26 touchdown passes.

The new additions could affect the Danes’ on-field look, but they aren’t rustling their chemistry. Most of the Danes’ players came from South, so they already know Brunson and Ford, and McLaughlin is a long-time resident of the south Forsyth/north Gwinnett area.

“It’s not like they’re complete strangers,” rising senior offensive lineman Noah Mallard said. “We just build off of what we had, and what we had is quite a bit. So it’s been easy getting used to them, and getting them used to us, too.”

One schematic change the Danes are set to make this fall is transitioning their defense from a 4-3 formation to a 3-3-5, which uses more players on the second and third levels of the defense, as opposed to the defensive line. With a relative lack of bigger space-fillers on the line, Crowder felt it was just the best formational fit to the Danes’ talent.

If there’s any specific week circled at this point, it’s the one that ultimately doomed Denmark last year: Oct. 4, the week of fall break, when the Danes will be the only team in the county playing. The altered schedule last year wound up knocking Denmark off its rhythm and contributing to a costly loss to West Hall, and the game on that date this year is against Blessed Trinity, the defending state champion.

“We’re going to talk about it every day, and we’re going to change how we practice that week, because we know how important that is,” Crowder said. “Setting it as a goal will be a huge thing for us, because last year I told them (that) it’s going to be hard. Now they believe me.”

Denmark’s spring wasn’t as intense as other county schools’ – the Danes didn’t do padded practices and instead held conditioning workouts and throwing sessions – but that was to make up for the extra intensity planned for the fall, when they’ll play two scrimmages, against Jefferson and Pickens County.

It’s an ambitious plan for a Denmark team with ambitious goals, one that’s richer in both experience and talent. The difference in expectations from year one to year two couldn’t be much wider.

“We went from zero expectations to now, (where) we’ve got a lot of expectations,” Crowder said. “And I’m glad. That’s where I want to be.”