Defensive line a swarming unit for the Jackets

Jalil Clemons, from left, Jaylan Ware and Ryan Johnson make up part of a stout Starkville High School defensive line.

Staff Writer

Walk around Starkville High School and ask those that know exactly what they think about the defensive line.

One could travel around the state of Mississippi and talk to a few high school coaches and players about it as well and they’ll all say one thing. This group is nasty.

In most situations, the Yellow Jacket front is made up of three players. They are senior defensive ends Jalil Clemons and Ryan Johnson and junior defensive tackle Jaylan Ware. Together, they help forge one of the best defensive lines anywhere in Mississippi. Comparisons start with the state championship crew of Kobe Jones, Maleke Bell and Lorenzo Dantzler from 2015, but they’re on a trajectory of topping that group.

“I feel like we’re very special," Clemons said. "We’re basically a replica of that defensive line with Kobe and those guys a few years ago. We’re a lot like that defensive line.

“We’re nasty. We feel like we’re savages and that nobody can stop us. We’re going to talk to you throughout the entire game, but play fast, physical and smart.”

So far, this nasty bunch is living up to the hype on the field.

In the first two wins, SHS has allowed just one touchdown from each of their opponents, Noxubee County and Oxford, and 149 yards rushing on 76 carries which is an average of 2 yards per rush. The Tigers and Chargers averaged just 120 yards of offense between them through the first two games and the defensive line has three of the six sacks with 12.5 tackles for loss out of the 20 total in two games.

Needless to say, the Jacket defense has been swarming and the three men up front along with and extension of the line in linebacker Zach Edwards and backups De’andra Davis, Tevontae Bond and Ahmir Taylor are getting the job done.

“They’ve got that nastiness that you want on the defensive line," SHS head coach Chris Jones said. "They’re kind of nice off the field, but when you get on the field they’re probably one of the nastiest groups I’ve been around as a unit. The chemistry that they have is something. (Clemons, Ware and Johnson) are together in the cafeteria, at home and wherever. If you call one of them, another one is somewhere near.”

Edwards leads the team from his linebacker post with three sacks and Clemons is the leading lineman with 14 tackles, four quarterback hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. While those players rack up the stats and attention from Southeastern Conference schools this senior season, a junior could be the key to the success up front.

That would be Ware, a monster on the inside at 6-2, 270 pounds with a motor that’s becoming a major issue for opposing offensive lines. The stats may not always show his impact even though he already has 12 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

“In my opinion, the one that kind of makes all of them go is (Ware)," Jones said. "I know that he doesn’t get the recognition, but anytime you have a nose tackle like that who is going to always either declare a double team or beat the mess out of the center all game. It makes it really hard on the opposing offensive line to have success and frees up Jalil, Ryan and Zach to do their thing. He’s the straw that stirs it all.”

The relationship that the players have had is an added bonus to the talent they possess. It’s also become a perfect storm with the knowledge from defensive coordinator Kevie Thompson and first-year line coach Milton Talbert.

Talbert is a former Alabama player and was a national champion on coach Nick Saban’s first Crimson Tide title team in 2009. The former Hattiesburg defensive lineman has taken what he’s learned as a player and brought it to the field as a coach with teams like Columbus and South Panola, and now SHS.  

Thompson and Talbert put the players in position to be successful, but they have to produce. With two games gone by, they’re holding up their end of the bargain as well. Jones and his staff just sit back and watch the promises that the players continue to make come to fruition.

“The main thing that helps them play well together is the chemistry and the fact that they’re always competing,” Jones said. “They want each other to do well. Scheme and coach Talbot plays a part in it, but it’s more about them wanting to be the best in the state of Mississippi.”