Safety may be one of the more talent-loaded positions among Denton-area schools this football season as two traditional powers, Ryan and Argyle, return a pair of dominant players to lead the way in the secondary.
For Ryan, it’s TJ Walker and Tra Smith. Walker was named a first team all-district selection last season while Smith took home defensive newcomer of the year honors in District 5-5A. Jake Sullivan and Hayden Clearman racked up similar awards at the Class 4A level. Sullivan was a first team all-district selection and Clearman was named the District 4-4A DI co-utility player of the year.
Here’s how Clearman, Sullivan, Smith and Walker stack up against the rest of the notable returners at safety in the area:
TJ Walker and Tra Smith, Ryan
While there was no doubt about the potency of Ryan’s offense entering last season, the Raiders were somewhat unproven defensively as they returned just two starters. Tra Smith and TJ Walker helped solidify the unit into one of top in the area, though, and finished the season with a combined 225 tackles last season while Smith hauled in a team-high four interceptions. The secondary will again be a strong point of the defense this year with Walker and Smith leading the way among a total of six returning defensive starters.
Elijah Thibodeaux, Denton
Thibodeaux is one of several key players who will see time on both sides of the ball for Billy Miller and the Broncos this season but he returns as an important piece of the team’s secondary. Thibodeaux had 97 tackles and four interceptions last year and is one of nine starters returning on what should be a much improved Denton defense.
Mitchell Lesue, Braswell
Mitchell Lesue was the Bengals’ leading tackler a year ago and also hauled in three interceptions as a junior. Braswell gave up more than 43 points per game defensively last year but still managed to put together the first two wins in program history. Lesue is one of the reasons for optimism defensively heading into this season.
Brent Jackson, Guyer
After flying under the radar for the majority of last year, Jackson — the younger brother of Northwestern defensive back Bryce Jackson — enters this season as the unquestioned leader of the Guyer secondary. He picked up an offer from Air Force in May and has a chance for a breakout season after finishing second on the team in tackles last year.
Chase Taylor, Ponder
Taylor made an immediate impact at the varsity level as a freshman and finished as the team’s third-leading tackler from his spot in the secondary. He had 71 tackles, the most of any Ponder returner, and is expected to see more time on the offensive side of the ball as well entering his sophomore season.
Jake Sullivan and Hayden Clearman, Argyle
The Eagles’ defense was loaded last season and finished the year having allowed just 15 points per game. Sullivan and Clearman, two key starters in the secondary, both return this year after combining for 142 tackles. Sullivan, who was just a sophomore a year ago, also tallied three interceptions. With returners all throughout the defense, look for Sullivan and Clearman to have an even bigger year on the back end for the No. 1 team in Class 4A this season.
Kobee Minor, Lake Dallas
The Lake Dallas coaching staff is extremely high on Minor and his potential as a rising star in the Falcons’ secondary. As a sophomore last year, Minor posted 89 tackles. He preformed well in 7-on-7 action and will line up at safety alongside converted corner Nick Cagnetto, giving Lake Dallas a solid base in the secondary with two new corners taking over on the outside.
Next up: Top returning cornerbacks in the Denton area
BRADY KEANE can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter @BradyKeane.