As the Heard County High School football team braces for the No. 1 defense in all of Class AA in the state semifinals on Friday night, Aaron Beasley aims to be a difference-maker in catapulting the Braves to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The junior tailback/safety has been a key asset for Heard County head coach Tim Barron on both sides of the ball, but upon facing a Hapeville Charter defense loaded with Division I talent, it's going to take the bruising rushing style of Beasley to sustain drives and have success against the Hornets (12-1).
"This week he's going to have to be a downhill guy. They run so well. You're not going to out-run this bunch. It's just not going to happen. Their back end, counting those inside backers, outside backers and secondary, they close so fast," Barron said. "You watch film on those guys and they close it down so fast that Beasley's got to be a guy that's downhill picking us up three, picking us up four."
Hapeville Charter enters Friday night's 7:30 semifinal showdown at Staples Stadium surrendering just 6.7 points per game and has held opponents to single digits in nine of its 13 games this season, including five shutouts.
The Hornets feature the Region 6-AA Defensive Player of the Year in senior defensive end and South Carolina commit Kingsley Enagbare, along with defensive back Chris Smith, a Georgia commit.
But there's much more in the arsenal than just those two guys, as Barron has yet to find a weakness at any level of the defense.
"A lot of times when you game plan somebody, you can find something personnel-wise that you want to attack," Barron said. "There's nobody on that defense that we can look up and say, 'Hey, we want to attack this young man.' They just don't have it. They're that talented."
Along with an incredible physical talent, the key ingredient that Beasley has delivered upon joining Heard County (12-1) this fall is balance to an offense that includes one of the top quarterbacks in the nation for the Class of 2018 in Emory Jones and two dynamic receivers with senior Jaden Moreland and junior Alijah Huzzie.
"We've had some really good running teams and we've been able to throw the ball at times, but to have that balance, that's been the key for us offensively this year," Barron said. "Defenses have to defend the run game, defend the pass game. For us to have that balance, it makes us a much more dangerous offense to prepare for."
Beasley, who rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown in last week's historic state quarterfinal win at Thomasville, has made the most of his time in Franklin this fall after transferring from nearby Bowdon over the summer, noting how there's a strong chemistry with his teammates.
"I've gotten really comfortable with them. I'm with them every day almost. We've just bonded together and on the field we just click. It's like we've been playing together since we were kids," Beasley said.
Barron has also noticed a nice comfort level since Beasley joined the Braves.
"He's mixed in well. He's a quiet kid. He's not a loud, outspoken young man. He doesn't talk a whole lot, but you can see from his interactions and smiling where you know he's comfortable," Barron said. "Of course, I'm sure it was tough to leave a lot of good friends and good people in Bowdon. I know that was hard on him and he still stays in touch with those guys and they're still important to him, but he's fit in well with us."
Looking ahead to Friday's matchup with the Hornets, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Division I recruit believes the Braves have the firepower to put points on the board against one of the stingiest defenses in the state.
"I don't feel like Hapeville has played anybody all season that has both the running game and passing game. We've got that, so I feel like it gives us a better advantage," Beasley said.
Of course, he understands that nothing is going to come easy on Friday night and it's going to take Heard County's best effort to pull out the victory and advance to the Class AA state championship game.
"We've got keep doing what we've been doing. We've got to execute blocks and execute our plays and we should be fine," Beasley said.
Along with his prolific offensive numbers, Beasley has also been a disruptive force defensively in 2017, holding down the back end of the defense upon developing a reputation as a heavy hitter.
"He just fits in to our 4-2-5 where the free safety is involved in the run game. Beasley loves to run downhill and play that alley. We've had some big hitters at that position, but never somebody that brings the load that Beasley brings," Barron said.
Beasley recorded a pair of interceptions to go along with his 100-yard rushing effort last week, and Barron said he is actually being looked at on both sides of the ball at the next level.
"South Carolina really likes a bigger back at running back and others like him at safety or OLB. So it just depends on what kind of scheme they're looking for, what they do offensively and what kind of scheme they do defensively," Barron said.
Beasley visited Georgia Tech this past weekend and also has high interest from South Carolina. With seven official offers at this point, he's hopeful of receiving offers from Georgia, Auburn and South Carolina over the next year.
But right now his No. 1 concern is keeping the state championship dream alive for Heard County. After becoming part of history in last week's first-ever state quarterfinal triumph, Beasley and the Braves have two more items on the to-do list before they'll be satisfied.
"It's been special. We're getting a lot of love from the community, but we've got to keep going. We ain't done yet," Beasley said.