Zachary’s Tyler Judson breaks up the pass to Live Oak’s Grant Richardson during the District 4-5A opener Sept. 21, 2018, at Zachary.

Zachary High School senior defensive back Tyler Judson’s numbers may be down, but his performance is up and that bodes well for the Broncos heading into the playoffs as the reigning Class 5A champions.

Playing more at safety during the 2017 run, he had 79 tackles, eight interceptions and 15 pass breakups. But to make the team stronger, he’s played primarily at cornerback, totaling 28 tackles, four interceptions and seven pass breakups.

“I dropped four this year,” Judson said with a chuckle. “And I’m mad at myself for it.”

Zachary coach David Brewerton and the rest of the Broncos (8-2) are nothing but delighted about Judson's play as they prepare for a first-round home game against No. 27-seed Sulphur (5-5) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Regardless of where he plays, Judson has been a force and an inspiration in 2018. A three-year starter, one of five team captains and a participant in all special teams, he’s been as important for his leadership to steer the Broncos away from complacency.

“He’s a catalyst in the secondary,” Brewerton said. “He can play corner or safety but right now we need him at corner. He understands what we’re trying to do. He makes sure the calls get across the field. He means a lot to us back there.”

Judson didn’t wait to be told to grab the leadership reins after the Broncos won the title. His summer consisted of workouts beyond what was required by the coaching staff to make himself better and a vow to stay vocal.

“I feel I’m a better player this year,” he said. “Being a senior after going to the Dome, I played more confident. I had to remind everyone they had a bullseye on their back. Everybody would look forward to beating us.

“I put in a lot of work in the offseason. We had 8 a.m. practices, and after that I’d got to the park for more sand drills or other drills with my teammates. Those sand drills are really hard, but they paid off.”

Judson brought his work ethic in practice every day, said teammate Chandler Whitfield, who relished the daily battles with his longtime friend. They grew up playing together since they were 8-year-olds, with Judson always leaning toward defense and Whitfield offense.

“He’s amazing,” Whitfield said. “He pushes me every day in practice and has made me a better receiver. He’s a hard worker and dedicated to everything we’re doing. He’s a great leader. Everybody looks up to him.

“We really go at it in practice. There’s a lot of talking, sometimes there’s a shove and we get to fighting but at the end of the day we love each other and want the same thing — a state championship.”

Whitfield will also vouch for Judson’s mental acumen as a cornerback, a short memory and supreme confidence. When they were 10-year-olds playing in a youth league championship game against Dunham’s Derek Stingley Jr., an LSU commitment and top recruit in the country, Judson told the opposing coach, Stingley’s father, that he would shut down Derek Jr. and proceeded to do so.

Judson projects as a safety in college. He’s remains committed to Ole Miss after offers from numerous schools, including Tulane, Virginia, Baylor and Houston. But he’s got some unfinished business as a cornerback.

“I had to be a leader even more this year than last year,” he said. “You have to make plays but you have to move on to the next play whether you made a good one or a bad one, just keep going. Win or lose, move on to the next opponent.

“It’s playoff time and we’ve got to pick it up a notch. That’s what I’m telling my teammates.”

Follow Robin Fambrough on Twitter, @FambroughAdv.