All-News4JAX defense: Grayson Howard helped ‘set the standard’ at Jackson

Jackson linebacker Grayson Howard is the All-News4JAX defensive player of the year. (News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Grayson Howard knew the tradition when he got to Jackson High School.

There hadn’t been much of it, at least positive anyway, on Main Street in quite some time.

When Howard was growing up, it was First Coast that dominated the headlines on his side of town. Jackson was a program that had seen better days. The Buccaneers were a powerhouse, both on the field and in recruiting circles. After Kevin Sullivan left Jackson following the 2009 season, the Tigers tailed off into an afterthought and eventually a Gateway Conference doormat.

Not anymore.

Led by Howard, the All-News4JAX defensive player of the year, the Tigers morphed from bottom tier of the Gateway to earning the No. 1 seed in the region and winning a district championship for the first time since 2009. That would have been preposterous to say during the lean 2010s, but it became reality during Howard’s time at Jackson.

Restoring the pride on Main Street was something Howard talked about even back in his freshman and sophomore seasons. To actually infuse the program with it by the time he left felt a bit like mission accomplished.

“I’m from the Northside, so it’s pretty much Jackson and First Coast. You know, First Coast had a lot of great players coming from First Coast, all that good stuff, and Jackson really didn’t have anything,” Howard said. “So, just wanted to be part of the change. Wanted to be different. Wanted to set the standard.”

Howard, alongside coach Christopher Foy, completely flipped the Jackson program around. He was a starter as a freshman and boosted his production — and visibility — each season. As a senior, Howard had an area-high 188 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and five sacks. What the stats don’t convey is the respect that Howard helped Jackson command. That doesn’t come in just a season or with a one high profile recruit.

“He just changed the program around I mean, not only the program, but each one of our lives. I mean, I’m seeing some of the kids not have anything going at all and just waking up early in the morning just to be around each other and work out and grind and suffer,” Howard said. “I mean, if you’ve been to Jackson, you can see that we don’t we don’t have much. So just just having that place that we can just come in and love each other. I mean, it’s amazing [what was accomplished].”

While Foy is the man Howard said helped remake the Tigers in such a short span, it was Howard who is easily tabbed as the face of the restored program. He became the program’s biggest recruit since Leon Washington and brought an added visibility to the school. Howard signed with South Carolina and enrolled early this month.

“I just want to say, the journey. Definitely. That’s probably what I’d be most proud of, just making everybody around me better,” Howard said. “The accolades are amazing, they’re great, and all that stuff. But I mean, the memories with the people that I’ve grinded with and suffered with and worked with, I mean, those are what’s going to last a lifetime.”


Pos. Player, School, Class

DL Torin Brazell, Bradford, Jr.

On one of the state’s best defenses, he was its best player. Had 68 tackles, 25 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles. Could play linebacker, too.

DL Jordan Hall, Westside, Sr.

Another player who earned top defensive votes from multiple coaches. Second-team All-News4JAX last year. Unreal numbers for a defensive lineman (106 tackles, 31 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 blocked FGs). Signed with Georgia.

DL Orlando Holland, Baker County, Sr.

Two-time All-News4JAX selection was at his best this year. Had a career-best 133 tackles and 5 TFL. One season after a whopping 27 sacks, Holland added 13.5 more. Also 5 TFL for the 9-4 Wildcats.

DL JaMari Whitehead, Raines, Sr.

Linebacker/defensive lineman was the motor on the Vikings defense. Had 94 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and recovered a pair of fumbles for 9-3 Raines. Signed with Georgia Southern.

LB Cameron Anderson, Trinity Christian, Jr.

Absolute menace on the field for the Conquerors. Had 142 tackles, 21 TFL and led the team with 6.5 sacks. Also picked off 2 passes.

LB Grayson Howard, Jackson, Sr.

All-News4JAX defensive player of the year. Two-time All-News4JAX first-team selection. Four-year player for the Tigers. Had 188 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, recovered 3 fumbles and forced another one. Also had a rushing TD. Signed with South Carolina.

LB Cortez Martinez, Baldwin, Sr.

Seven defensive players received votes for top player honors and he was one of them. All-Gateway selection and major playmaker for the Baldwin defense. Helped lead Indians to first district crown and 9-3 season. Had 66 tackles, 4 TFL and 4 INTs.

LB Jayden Robinson, Columbia, Sr.

Picked up a couple votes as the top defensive player and had a major part in the Tigers reaching the state semifinals. Had 144 tackles, 7 sacks, 6 fumble recoveries and 3 forced fumbles. Signed with University of Florida.

DB Sharif Denson, Bartram Trail, Sr.

The best season of his career. Did more this season than he has in the past, despite being a player QBs tended to stay away from. More than 3 dozen tackles. Picked off a pair of passes and blocked a couple kicks. Signed with University of Florida.

DB Chavaris Dumas, Palatka, Sr.

The Panthers enjoyed their best season in what felt like a lifetime this season and Dumas was a significant reason for that improvement. Had 8 INTs and turned half of those into pick-sixes. Added 4 special teams TDs (a pair of kick returns and 2 others on punt returns. Also had a TD grab for 7-4 Panthers.

DB Amare Ferrell, Columbia, Sr.

Predator in the secondary. Finished with 99 tackles and tied for team lead with 5 INTs as defense led Tigers to state semifinals. Signed with Indiana University.

DB Kavon Miller, Bolles, Sr.

Clutch in the secondary throughout his entire career. Had 73 tackles, 6 INTs, pick-6 and blocked a FG. Also had 8 rushing TDs and returned a kick for a TD. Has committed to Princeton.

ATH Chason Clark, Bradford, Jr.

Led one of the state’s best defensive units with 101 total tackles. Added 14 TFL, 3 sacks, forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Also played tight end where he had 216 yards receiving, 3 TDs.

ATH Davaughn Patterson, White, Sr.

Excellent two-way player for the district champion Commanders. Primary position was in the secondary where the safety had 64 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 forced fumblesRushed for 587 yards on 88 carries (6.7 ypc) and 13 TDs. Wake Forest University signee.

ATH Desirrio Riles, University Christian, Sr.

Switched from QB to defense this season and it paid off. Had 68 tackles, 24 TFL and 14 sacks as Christians reached the Class 1M state semifinals. Added 2 INTs and returned one for a TD in regional finals. Added 280 receiving yards, 4 TDs from tight end spot.

P Drew Ammon, Oakleaf, Sr.

Second-team All-News4JAX selection last year as a punter and had stronger numbers this season (45.6 yards per punt average). Was a triple threat for the Knights. Passed for 1,680 yards, 18 TDs. Rushed for 472 yards, 4 TDs. And handled all kicking duties including kickoffs and field goals.


Pos., Player, School, Class

LB Zeke Cromwell, Bartram Trail, Sr.

Led the 12-1 Bears in tackles. Also had an interception and forced a fumble as Bears reached the third round of the state playoffs.

LB Lashun Mays, Parker, Sr.

Bright spot in a tough year for the Braves. Had 130 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.

LB Carmello Murphy, Mandarin, Sr.

Had team-leading 129 tackles, 21 TFL for 5-5, district champ Mustangs. Added 9.5 sacks and forced a fumble.

LB Trooper Price, Ponte Vedra, Sr.

Led Sharks with 114 tackles with 9 TFL, 2 forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions.

DL Garrison Butler, Bolles, Jr.

High motor on the line. Had 50 tackles and team-best 17 tackles for loss, 4 sacks for 9-5, state semifinalist Bulldogs.

DL Matteo Davis, Fletcher, Sr.

Had 70 tackles, 14.5 sacks and forced 3 fumbles for district champion Senators.

DL Markus Strong, Union County, Sr.

Third on the Tigers in tackles (55). Led the team in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (21.5). Forced 3 fumbles and was the most dominant player on defense for the state semifinalist Tigers. Signed with Oklahoma University.

DL De’Avary Weeks, Riverside, Sr.

Had 74 tackles and 17 for loss on one of the area’s most underrated defenses. Added 6 sacks and forced a team-high 4 fumbles as the Generals turned things around late and reached the state playoffs.

DB Seth Brooks, Jackson, Sr.

Had 77 tackles and team-best 5 INTs for 8-3 Tigers. Added 9 tackles for loss and a key player for a revamped Jackson program.

DB Jerome Carter III, Columbia, Jr.

Had 104 tackles, tied for team high with 5 INTs. Also forced a fumble for the Class 3M state semifinalist Tigers.

DB CJ Dorsey, Parker, Sr.

Had 54 tackles in his final season and a couple of INTs. Teams didn’t look his way as much after picking off 9 passes last year. Career-high 19 passes defensed. Forced and recovered a fumble. Had 1,180 all-purpose yards and 4 TDs.

DB Kenton Kirkland, Raines, Sr.

Had 49 tackles, TFL and blocked a punt as teams elected to stay away from the Florida State signee. Track star speed. Led team with a couple of interceptions.

ATH Kyle Boylston, Trinity Christian, Jr.

Third on the Conquerors in tackles (51) and led the team in interceptions (6). Had 3 fumble recoveries and a pick-six. Had 321 receiving yards, 5 TDs on 14 catches.

ATH Corey Scott, Episcopal, Sr.

Another player who is tough to put in one position. Had 52 catches for 1,076 yards, 10 TDs for 8-3 Eagles. Added 23 tackles and team-best 5 INTs. Scored on a pick-six and a punt return.

ATH Javarion Smith, Suwannee, Sr.

Huge big play threat for the 10-3 Bulldogs. Had 53 catches for 1,039 yards, 13 TDs in a breakout season in Live Oak. Totaled 1,459 all-purpose yards. Big-time player on defense, too. Had 91 tackles and picked off a pass.

ATH Tavales Thomas, Sr.

Had 675 rushing yards on 75 carries (9 ypc) and scored 6 TDs. From his role on defense, had 26 tackles, 2 INTs and recovered a fumble.

Honorable mention

Atlantic Coast

DE/LB Camden Hardy, Jr.

Baker County

LB Seth Chestnut, So.; DB Davion Dean, So.

Bartram Trail

DL Shane Armstrong, Sr.; DL Arion Stith, Sr.


LB Eddie Craig, Jr.


LB Octavius Barnes, So.; DL Synorice Barnes, So.; DB Leon Kirkland, Jr.; DL Adrian Yeartie, Sr.

Bishop Kenny

DB Nash Beenen, Jr.; LB Kolbe Sexton, Jr.


LB Trent Carter, Jr.; DL Tanner Hogan, Sr.; DB Spencer Surface, Sr.; DB Kemani Wilson, Sr.


LB Bryson Bowen, Sr.; DB CJ Carn, Sr.; DeJon McBride, Sr.


DL Caden Bolstein, So.; DL Rashod Bradley, Sr.; LB Tyrell Peterson, Sr.


CB Anthony Akel, Sr.; LB Ian Mooney, Sr.

First Coast

LB Miles Smith, Sr.

Fleming Island

DL Jhace Edwards, Sr.; CB Devante Lewis, Sr.; DL Khalil Matthews, So.; LB Abram Wright, Sr.


LB Eli Durden, Sr.

Fort White

LB Davone Calhoun, Sr.; DB Gavin Heaton, Jr.


LB Damon Kibler, Jr.


DL Rakeem Brown, Sr.; LB Der’tavius Mack, Sr.; LB Jonathan Servin, Sr.


CB Joseph Bargeron, Jr.; DL Tyler Fann, Sr.; LB Thomas Fore, Sr.; DB Brian Hooks, Sr.; DL/OL Jeremiah Lovely, Sr.

Keystone Heights

DB Darrion Grady, Jr.


LB Jackson Copeland, Jr.; DB Jon Mitchell, Jr.


WR/LB Cole Hash, Jr.


LB Joseph Soto, So.


LB Austin Cruce, Jr.


DB Willie Scruggs, Jr.

Orange Park

DB Dacarris Jacobs, Sr.; LB Tyler Jackson, Jr.


LB Jeffery Brown, Jr.


LB Michael Burney, Sr.

Ponte Vedra

DL Layne Swafford, Sr.


DL/LB Sam Hayward, So.


LB Terrence Forbes Jr., Jr.; LB Johnathan Fitzgerald, Jr.; Zavien Harris, Sr.; DB Nicholas Kilpatrick, Jr.; DL/LB Jahlil Richardson, Sr.


LB Jalen Armstead, Sr.; DL Kamari Campbell, So.; LB Ande King, Sr.; DB Kevin Stokes, Sr.


LB/DL Jamal Harvey, Jr.; LB/DL Zaire Moody, Sr.; LB Lovell Vereen, Jr.

St. Augustine

LB Drake Lusk, Jr.


LB CJ Allen, Sr.; DE Koron Hayward, Sr.


LB Kodi Lang, Jr.; LB Brandon Robinson, Sr.; OL/DL Blake Wynn, Sr.

Tocoi Creek

LB Charlie Allsup, Sr.

Trinity Christian

DB Jaykob Jones, Jr.; LB Bryce Kazmierczak, Jr.; DL/OL Malachi Young, Sr.

University Christian

LB Dallas Brown, Sr.; OL/DL Noah Clark, Sr.; LB/DL Kaydrick Robinson, Sr.; LB Luke Thomas, Jr.


DB Carlton Cogdell, Jr.


LB Lawrence Neloms, Sr.


LB Amauri Goff, So.; DB Landon Hale, Sr.; LB Rylan Hale, Jr.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.