Soon, Neil Monaghan will delve into the field of medicine, chasing his dream to be a physician while studying at Wofford College.
In the meantime, Monaghan and his teammates focus on simple math.
“At Daniel, we emphasize defense,” the senior linebacker said. “That’s what’s important to us. Defense wins ball games. If they can’t score, they can’t win.”
They haven’t won against the Lions this year, which is why Daniel (14-0) will play Myrtle Beach (10-4) for the Class AAA championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Seahawks will face a Daniel defense that’s fueled by tradition and energized by experience.
Tradition? DeAndre Hopkins and Jarvis Jenkins played defense for Daniel before heading to Clemson and the NFL. DeShawn Williams, D.J. Greenlee, Jerrodd Williams and Shaq Lawson are among the others who recently played defense for Daniel before heading to Clemson.
Experience? Eight seniors have been playing together for three years.
“It’s a bond that a lot of teams around here don’t have,” said senior defensive lineman Tyrell Fleming, who leads the Lions with 10 sacks.
“We brought them up as sophomores together,” Daniel coach Randy Robinson said. “Those guys work well together. They communicate, and communication’s so big on defense. They seem to know what the other kid’s doing at all times, and that’s certainly made a difference for us defensively.”
“We don’t try to play out of our abilities, because we know the guy next to us knows what he’s doing and is good enough to get the job done,” said Monaghan. “We play assignment football, which is one of the most important things we stress out here. That not only takes the pressure off us as players but really works well.”
Despite the fact that Chapman gained 411 yards and scored four touchdowns in the Upper State final, which Daniel won 29-27, the Lions, over the course of the season, have allowed 12.4 points and 226.8 yards per game, recorded five shutouts and held eight opponents to fewer than 10 points.
“If the defense isn’t good, then we can’t expect our offense to succeed,” senior linebacker Michael Peppers said. “Our offense builds off us, so if we’re playing good, then they’re playing great. If we’re playing bad, then they’re playing bad.”
Monaghan, Peppers and senior linebacker Solomon Brown, who leads Daniel with 126 tackles and 16 tackles for loss, are three of six seniors on defense who have landed scholarship offers, Robinson said.
Monaghan accepted an invitation as a preferred walk-on at Wofford. Twin brothers Judah and J.D. Davis, linebackers and sons of former Clemson All-America linebacker Jeff Davis, have committed to the Tigers as grayshirts and plan to enroll in January 2015.
Another Daniel defender would have fielded scholarship offers, Robinson said, but Joel Starkes, a two-year starter up front, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a preseason scrimmage. Young stepped in for Starkes to join Fleming and Lee Eddleman up front and keep the defense humming.
“It’s fun to win with guys who are not necessarily thinking college. They just want to get out there and help their high school team win, and Markell’s one of those guys,” Robinson said.
Monaghan, who’s had some knee trouble, will play but won’t start against Myrtle Beach. Peppers and Judah Davis will start at the inside linebacker positions, with Brown and J.D. Davis on the outside.
Juniors Amir Trapp and Kyle Cote will start at the corners, with junior Dylan Pilgrim and brother Daulton Pilgrim, the other senior, at the safeties.
“We rotate them so much,” Robinson said. “I know everyone gets caught up in starters. ‘Pep’ didn’t start several games, but he has scholarship offers. We share the wealth around here. We don’t want the kids getting caught up and getting selfish, so we rotate, and it hasn’t been a problem.
“That’s a credit to the community. We have that teamwork aspect. Our kids are not selfish.”
Peppers said they just follow the plan.
“(Our coaches) spend countless hours here,” he said. “Sundays they’re here from 3 till sometimes 11 o’clock at night breaking down film, coming up with schemes and everything we need to do to get the job done on Fridays.”