FOOTBALL: LFO duo share Catoosa County defensive honors
The past couple of years have seen the beginnings of a turnaround in Warrior Country.
After four years and a combined seven wins, LFO improved to 5-5 in 2017 and made the jump to 7-4 this past fall, despite losing more than 20 seniors from the previous season. And while LFO’s ground-and-pound running game was able to chew up yards and put up points in 2018, the defense deserves plenty of credit as well.
A unit that allowed over 41 points game just two years ago has nearly cut that number in half as the Red-and-White gave up just 24.1 points a contest this past season and held opposition to 15 points or less six times.
LFO not only had its most single-season wins since 2012, it played for a region championship and hosted a first-round state playoff game for the first time since 2004.
Today, two of the main reasons for the improved defensive numbers - juniors James Beddington and Todd Thornburg - are being recognized as the Co-Defensive Players of the Year for Catoosa County.
Beddington, a 6-foot, 235-pound defensive lineman, finished the 2018 season with 49 tackles (40 solo). He had 20 tackles for loss, seven sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles and scored one defensive TD. Meanwhile, Thornburg helped shore up the second level as the 5-11, 185-pounder had 120 total tackles (100 solo) with five tackles for loss, two sacks, four fumble recoveries, seven quarterback pressures and one interception from his linebacker spot.
“This year was a big one for me,” Beddington explained. “I had an MCL injury three games into my freshman year. I came back my sophomore year, but there was some pressure. I didn’t start the first game (last year), but I started every game after that and I really just felt a lot of pressure from all of the upperclassmen with me being an underclassmen that was coming in and starting over some of the older guys.
“There was pressure again this year, but it was a different kind of pressure with all the younger guys looking up to me now. I just decided that I had to set a good example for the underclassmen in the weight room, on the field and off the field.”
LFO head coach Bo Campbell said Beddington really stepped up for the team in 2018.
“He had a pretty decent year last year, but I really think he took more of a leadership-by-example role this year,” Campbell said. “He was a guy we really counted on up front. A lot of times, you’re only as good as your defensive line and he helped lead that defensive line to do the right thing.
“He really worked hard in the offseason on his technique, strength and speed. That really showed when he was out there playing football. He’s another guy, a lot like Todd, that goes 100 miles an hour on every play. We have a lot of guys like that, guys who will give you all of their heart and everything they’ve got.”
Beddington said the game against Murray County was a personal highlight as he caused fumble, recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown, in addition to making several tackles.
“Next year I want to get stronger,” he added. “I wasn’t as strong this year as I needed to be and I need to work even harder next year. Not that I didn’t work hard (this year), but I just need to make myself even better. We want to develop a brotherhood like this school as never seen before, especially on defense, where everyone is making All-Region teams and things like that.”
Thornburg gave credit to 2018 LFO graduate Drew Woodard for getting him ready to become a true leader at the linebacker spot.
“Last year, I played with Drew and I really looked up to him,” Thornburg said. “He showed me the ropes when I was still a freshman. When he left, I knew I had to fill some big shoes. I tried to help Coach Campbell coach up some other linebackers to help me out in the box, but I also knew I had to step up on the field, so I just read my keys like I was supposed to, tried to make open-field tackles and close things up in the gaps.”
Thornburg said two games stood out from the rest. He said beating county and region rival Ringgold for the second straight year was a highlight, but he also pointed to the Sonoraville game as one of, if not his most memorable night of the season.
“That (Sonoraville) game touched everybody, because that’s the game that got us into the (state) playoffs,” he explained.
“Todd is a hard worker,” Campbell said. “He’s a guy that’s going to work hard in practice every day. He listens and he’s very coachable. He did a great job in a lot of different areas that helped lead our defense and we’re real proud of him. He doesn’t have the DI college size for a linebacker, but the thing about him is that he plays with a lot of heart. You really don’t have to get on to him about ever slacking or taking a play off.”
“I just tried to push myself to help make our other players better,” Thornburg added. “We’ve got three or four spots to fill next year and we have some guys that can fill those spots, so it’s looking good for next year.”
Campbell said he was thrilled that both his standouts would be back for one more season on The Hill.
“They both had great years,” the coach added. “We’re proud of everyone on our defense. They all did a great job, along with the offense and special teams too. Everybody helped out this year and it’s always nice for those guys to get recognition for working hard and being the best they can be.”