Gone are the days that Folsom’s defense is overlooked.
At the beginning of this decade, Folsom’s offense got all the publicity, but the defense has come to be strong in its own right, especially over the last five years.
This year’s unit figures to be strong again, but coaches have shuffled players to new positions and had to bring in five new starters from last year’s group. The Bulldogs have four players returning to their same positions as a year ago; defensive tackle Tyler Hardeman, linebackers Elijah Swonger and Dylan Jorge, and safety Gavin Davis-Smith. Hardeman is coming off a great junior year, as he looks to have an even better senior season. At 6-2, 260 pounds, the defensive tackle is tough to block and creates havoc against both the run and the pass.
“Tyler is a hard guy to block because he’s got a low center of gravity,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “He grew up as a linebacker, so he knows how to get to the ball. He’s a force because he knows how to set blocks and then get to the ball. I thought last year he was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the area, and I feel the same way this year.”
Swonger and Jorge are key pieces and top tacklers at linebacker. Davis-Smith is solid and steady at safety.
“Elijah and Dylan were two of our leading tacklers last season,” Richardson said. “They do a great job, and we’ve got some depth with Chris Catalano, Dylan Richard and Alex Wong. Gavin started last season as the fifth guy/next guy in, but by the end of the year he was playing a majority of the snaps. With his confidence, speed and strength, he made a huge improvement last season.”
Parker Clayton and CJ Hutton are returning starters at new positions. Clayton moves from linebacker to safety, while Hutton moves from safety to corner.
“Parker moving to safety isn’t that big of a difference from linebacker, and it’s really a luxury to be able to play him at safety,” Richardson said. “He’s replacing Tanner Ward, and we ask a lot of that position in that they hit like a linebacker and cover like a defensive back and Parker can do both.
“CJ can play any position in the backfield and really could play a nickel linebacker position too. As we were shuffling guys around creating spots for people, CJ attacked the cornerback position with enthusiasm. He’ll be fantastic at corner.”
The new starter in the secondary is Caleb Nelson. A leg injury last year limited his playing time, but now he’s healthy and confident. Richardson called him a rangy, long-armed cornerback.
Others who will see time in the secondary include Joe Ngata and Elijhah Badger, as well as Davion Blackwell.
The new starter at linebacker replacing Clayton is Noah Jenkins, who Richardson said could be the team’s most improved player from a year ago.
“Noah developed last year and about the middle of the season really started to play some good football,” Richardson said. “He’s improved a ton in the weight room, as well as with his knowledge of the game.”
Of Folsom’s five new starters on defense, three come on the defensive line. Deshawn Lynch (6-3, 265) starts at one defensive end spot, while Chandon Pierre (6-3, 255) will lineup opposite of Lynch. Sliding into the nose tackle position will be Caleb Freeland (5-11, 245), who saw a lot of playing time last year as a reserve. Other linemen in the mix include Joe Wagner, David Ruiz, Kaden Richardson and Dylan Richard.
“We’ve finally got some beef on the line this year,” Richardson said.