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Practice action of Madison Prep defensive back David Jones, right, makes the play on the ball carrier during drills Tuesday Oct. 12, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.

Madison Prep Academy junior cornerback David Jones remembers wondering during spring practice where everybody had gone from last year’s defense.

The Chargers rode a veteran group of seven senior defensive starters to the school’s first Class 3A state championship in December, with the unit dominating during a 50-0 victory over Union Parish.

“To get to the championship last year we had to come together as a team, work for each other, and that’s what we have to do now,” Jones said. “We have to get that chemistry we had last year to go further.”

With games against St. Thomas More and Southern Lab to open the season, Madison Prep football coach Landry Williams didn’t have to wait long to see how his new-look defense would fare against teams with plenty of offensive firepower.

The No. 2 Chargers (6-0, 4-0) rallied to win both games by a combined seven points and have developed the type of cohesion that’s resulted in another standout defensive unit going into Friday’s District 7-3A showdown with No. 1 University High (6-0, 3-0) at Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m.

“At times they’ve created an identity of their own,” Williams said. “Right now, I’m pleased with what they’ve started to become. We still make mistakes because we are playing a lot of young guys. That comes with the territory, and I don’t have a problem with it as long as they’re going full speed.”

Having to replace seven starters on either side of the ball is challenging while trying to maintain a championship-level program.

Jones — one of four returning starters along with Class 3A first-team All-State defensive end Quency Wiggins, lineman Ronald Harris and linebacker Darion Johnson — believes MPA has withstood a sizable shift in personnel because of the program’s winning culture and high expectations.

“We had a lot of new guys coming in and they had to step up and do their job,” said Jones, who has 18 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups. “We had a couple of guys that didn’t start last year but they know what to do. They have to put in the work to get the job done.”

One such player is Johnson, a senior middle linebacker. Johnson, a 5-foot-8, 170-pounder, has taken over full time at middle linebacker and with a nose for the football — coupled with his knack for keeping teammates composed during pressure-packed moments — he’s become an unquestioned leader.

“He doesn’t back down. We hold him accountable like he was 6-2, 230,” Williams said of Johnson, who has 33 tackles with three for losses. “He’s the kind of kid that represents us as a coaching staff.”

Jones said he’s tried to follow the example of former standout and Memphis signee Tyrell Raby, fostering a role as a mentor where he expects the secondary to continue playing to the same high standards the program’s been built on.

“We’re doing good so far,” Jones said. “We’ve got to work on simple mistakes, but we’ve got to go at it and do what we’ve got to do.”