Davie Football: Secondary returning three starters

Published 1:14 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Sports Editor

In 2021, Davie’s defense gave up 212 passing yards and 2.4 touchdown passes per game.

In 2022, it allowed 199 and 1.6, respectively.

There’s hope the War Eagles can trim those numbers again in 2023, partly because they have returning starters at safety. Senior Eli Branham and junior Connor Hood have a chance to be the main men at strong and free safety.

Branham has several valuable traits, including a relentless work ethic and high football IQ.  “Eli is an absolute workhorse,” defensive coordinator Blaine Nicholson said. “He’s one of the smartest guys on the defense. He could call it if I wasn’t there. He’s like a Tasmanian devil. He’s definitely outsized, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he flies around and the kind of physicality he puts on people.”

Hood, who survived baptism by fire as a varsity sophomore, looks poised for a starring role. “He’s a really good tackler in space and one-on-one,” Nicholson said. “He can cover the deep middle of the field and he can also play man in the slot. We asked a lot of him last year. He got thrown to the fire and he did pretty darn good. He’s a great athlete.”

Head coach Tim Devericks echoed those sentiments. “When you return guys that played the majority of the snaps last year as basically the quarterbacks of the defense, that makes you feel better about the situation,” Devericks said. “Both guys are great young men and I think that spreads throughout the secondary.”

In terms of depth at safety, Elliott Gould is a super exciting sophomore.

“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast,” Nicholson said. “When he figures it out, man, he’s going to be ripping people’s heads off. He’s like a good mix of Connor and Eli. He’s just got to let the game slow down a little bit. We’ve got a couple roles for him, sub packages, to make sure we get him on the field because of his athleticism and tenacity.”

Senior Reid Nail is ready for his moments at free safety. “He would fight a circle saw,” Nicholson said. “He’s another tough guy and really smart. If something happens, he can definitely step in.”


Although proven depth is thin at cornerback, returning starter Gavin Reese is already a stud as a sophomore.

“He’s going to be playing a little bit on the offensive side (at receiver) because he’s such a good athlete,” Nicholson said. “You want to talk about a great athlete and a guy who puts the team first? A lot of times they come in and want to play offense. He came in and said: ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’ He’s just a competitor. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, he wants to be the best in whatever drill we’re doing. He has a knack for the ball and he’s cerebral. You can tell him something once and he’s going to do it. And he’s not going to back down from anybody. I mean, when we played East Forsyth last year, they had a really talented guy who was going to Duke, and Gavin was up there competing for high balls. He’s going to be a huge part of all three phases – offense, defense and special teams.”

“Gavin is a superior athlete,” Devericks said. “He’s the leader of that group.”

At the other corner, Braxton Bowling is a freshman and there are always rocky moments for varsity freshmen. But this dude is going to be special in due time. His brother, Caleb Bowling, is a junior DB for Drake University. Caleb was Davie’s leading tackler in 2019 and the spring of 2021.

“You know he’s got a great football pedigree,” Nicholson said. “You can’t hide his athleticism. You can’t hide his physicality. He was playing middle school ball (at Ellis) last year, and he’s got to learn the calls and make sure he’s mentally correct. But through the summer, he’s made enough plays that if we were playing today, he’d be the other guy (opposite Reese).”

The other corners are juniors Leon Bradshaw and Zi Robinson and sophomores Josh Jones and CJ Moore. Bradshaw is primarily  a receiver, and Robinson is a first-year Davie player.

“CJ made a lot of plays for us on JV last year,” Nicholson said.

It’s a shame Davie doesn’t have Landon King boosting the secondary. Last August against West Rowan, he suffered a season-ending knee injury while making an interception in the end zone. He had to watch the last nine games, and in all likelihood, he’ll miss his entire junior football season.

“He’s still nursing that (knee),” Nicholson said. “We might get him back at the end of October, but more than likely he’s going to be out for the season to make sure he can get back right and come back strong for his senior year.”