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Football: Ball-hawking Fairview defense has been a turnover machine in 2020

Jay Barry Jr.’s five interceptions pacing Knights secondary that leads the state with a total of 13

Fairview High School senior Jay Barry (17) intercept a ball intended for Legacy High School receiver Camdyn Johnson (11) on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

BOULDER – Jay Barry Jr. has football in his blood.

With a father like Jay Barry, who was a star at the University of Washington, and a grandfather like Odell Barry, who played for the Denver Broncos, Jay Barry Jr. was pretty much destined to play the game.

After several years of standing out on a struggling Denver East team, Barry Jr. found his way to Fairview High School where he is standing out in an entirely different way. A welcome addition to an already good defense, Barry Jr. has a team-high five interceptions for a Knights unit that leads the state with a total of 13 through just six games. Barry Jr. clearly isn’t the only one making plays out there and he’ll be the first to tell you that the Fairview defense as a whole is about one thing first and foremost in 2020.

Take the ball away.

“Our mentality on the field is to play every play like it could be our last,” Barry Jr. said. “We’ve been playing like every game is our last game and everything is on the line. With this coronavirus going around, it could always be the last game we play this season or the last game of our careers for the seniors. We’re just trying to make the most out of every play.”

One of the teams lucky enough to even get six games played this fall, the Knights (6-0) defense allowed an average of just 14.2 points per game through the shortened regular season. At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, sixth-seeded Fairview will take on No. 3 Legend (6-0) at EchoPark Automotive Stadium in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.

When that game begins, here is the list of Fairview players who have picked off a pass already this fall: Barry (5), Grant Page (3), Aidan Christiansen (2), Blake Berdan, Liam Huber and Alec Duggan. The Knights have also recovered six fumbles on the season.

Despite the secondary’s eye-popping numbers, Fairview head coach Tom McCartney maintains that the Knights’ defensive success in 2020 has been spearheaded by Kansas State University-bound defensive lineman Brayden Wood.

“Brayden is a team captain and a voice,” McCartney said. “He has a ton of passion and knowledge. We believe defense is morale and he brings incredible morale. We also believe defense is about anticipation and he does a great job of watching film on our opponent to get us ready. And of course on the field, he wreaks havoc. To have a guy like that allows the other guys to make a lot of plays.”

While Wood has deservedly been receiving a lot of attention in opponents’ blocking schemes, Huber, who McCartney calls “a missile,” leads the team with 62 tackles and sophomore linebacker Zach Lewis has 52. Wood has 51 tackles of his own.

With Liam O’Brien throwing for 1,860 yards and 18 touchdowns to Barry Jr. and all those same guys who stand out in the Fairview secondary, it certainly has been a spectacular regular season for Fairview. When they open the postseason on against a Legend squad that has forced 19 turnovers of its own, the big-play Knights will keep trying to win the turnover battle and fight their way into the semifinals.

“We have a lot of guys who really fly around and are always ball-hawking,” McCartney said. “If there’s any pressure on the quarterback, and there has been, maybe you don’t put the best ball in the air. If you don’t put the best ball in the air, this group will make a play on it.”