Jarontay Jones and Jafar Mann were a year away from entering high school, but they had the same ambition—win a state high school football championship at Stephenson.
“They all had goals of winning a state championship, even in middle school,” Jaguars coach Ron Gartrell said. “And the other kids pick up on that.”
Nearly five years later, the two senior defensive linemen are part of the blueprint of consistent success that Gartrell has built at Stephenson in its 15th season playing varsity football. The 7-0 Jaguars, still looking for their first championship, have made the state playoffs 11 straight seasons.
“There’s not much pressure being seniors, we just do what we’ve gotta do,” said Jones, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder. “We’ve been doing it since we were freshmen. We’ve been all-county, all-region, now we’re ready to win a state championship.”
The duo is part of a defensive front that has helped Stephenson become one of the most disruptive defenses in the state. The Jaguars lead the county with 36.5 sacks and 70 tackles for losses. Jones is second on the team with 14.5 sacks. The Jaguars boast the county’s best defense against the run, allowing the opposition 70 yards per game.
“We’re going to be the predicting factor,” said Mann, 6-4 and 275 pounds. “Everybody plays better when we set the tone.”
Mann has committed to Florida while Jones has committed to Virginia Tech. A third member of the starting defensive line, senior Carlos Hood, has committed to a scholarship offer by South Carolina.
Two years ago, then-senior Michael Thornton was one of the most heavily recruited defensive linemen in the state. Thornton chose Georgia, where he is a redshirt freshman nose tackle.
Having three blue-chip linemen gives Gartrell plenty of options on defense.
“We’re fortunate to have guys that size that can move like those guys can,” Gartrell said. “They enable us to do different things like stop the run, force turnovers and put pressure on the passer.”
As has been the case for years at Stephenson, team chemistry added to the enormous talent base has been a formula for success. In addition to having players come through Wade Walker Park and Stephenson Middle School, the Jaguars have had their share of transfers over the years.
“To have some of those guys come up through the middle school is a great feeling,” Gartrell said. “They’re the ones that look forward to coming up and being a part of the tradition here. They all enjoy playing with each other. Even the players who come in later fit in like they’re right at home.”
Such has been the case with Hood, who leads the team with three recovered fumbles.
“We’re not the only talent on our team,” Hood said. “Everybody contributes and the team chemistry is really good. We’re all pretty close and we hang out together off the field.”