April 7, 2014
The Clint Conque era at Stephen F. Austin has officially begun as the Lumberjacks have commenced on their 2014 spring practice schedule. Each practice session, SFAJacks.com will highlight a different position as today's report focuses on the SFA linebacking unit under the direction of defensive coordinator Matt Williamson. The reports will conclude with coverage of the 2014 Spring Game, being held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12th at Homer Bryce Stadium.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas – When head coach Clint Conque was announced as Stephen F. Austin’s new head man back in December, one of the first names to surface to fill out his staff was his longtime defensive coordinator, Matt Williamson.
Williamson had become just as synonymous with Central Arkansas’ success as Conque had as the two worked side-by-side for the past seven seasons in Conway. During his time as the Bears’ DC, UCA led the Southland Conference in scoring defense for three-straight seasons, including leading the league in total defense in 2009.
By accepting the offer to join Conque in Nacogdoches, he understood the challenge he would face at SFA, inheriting a defense that ranked on the other end of the spectrum statistically for the past few seasons.
“My first priority was to watch a lot of film and see the type of players we had here, knowing we’d have to base our defense around the players we had,” Williamson said of the transition. “The next thing was to instill the passion that I have and that our defensive coaches have to the field. I hired a bunch of great guys that work very hard and are incredibly skilled at what they do. This game is about emotion. We’re teachers, no doubt, showing these players where we want them to be, how we want things done, but the biggest thing was getting them to play hard and physical and believing in themselves.”
That emotion and physical play has become evident as the Lumberjacks enter their final week of spring practice – one that has been highlighted by strong performances on the defensive unit, including the SFA linebackers that Williamson oversees.
“We’ve changed some personnel and moved people around, but it is pretty similar to what they’ve done in the past,” said Williamson. “But our main focus was to get them to believe in our system, and it has worked really well. We’re really excited to watch them play and see what they can do.”
The experience spectrum varies greatly when it comes to the group, led by senior Collin Garrett who has anchored the Will slot. The Beaumont native started all 10 games he played in last season, ranking second on the team with 88 tackles, including 40 solo stops and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Garrett’s fellow senior and high school teammate, Nick Bryant, has also caught the eye of Williamson after playing in all 12 games in 2013 with 20 tackles. He has been slotted in the starting position at the Jack spot with senior Rodney Young taking the helm at Mike.
“Collin Garrett has the passion and drive and is a very competitive player. They have all shown their competitiveness, but he is one that has really stood out,” Williamson said. “Nick Bryant has had a really good spring and has really turned it on. Rodney Young does everything right. He’s a very intelligent kid, a very instinctive kid, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. They have really put a lot of effort into learning how we do things and have really made great strides.”
Joining Garret at the Will slot is sophomore Jabralon Allen, who Williamson has said is probably the most physical of the group. He saw action in nine games in 2013, recording 20 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss. Redshirt freshmen Dillon Branson and Halen Haire have also made key plays at the position.
Alongside Young at the Mike linebacker is senior Marvin Gray, who is making the transition after playing safety last season and notched 27 tackles in 11 games. Senior Eroni Foifua and redshirt freshman Ronald Ballard also have seen quality snaps during spring workouts.
At the Jack position, sophomore Roman Mitchell is being looked to contribute after seeing limited action in 2013, picking up four tackles in eight games playing primarily special teams. Fellow sophomore Patrick Martin is also making the transition up from the defensive secondary, coming off a strong freshman season in which the Spring native recorded 44 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss in 12 games.
As the final practices of the spring season loom on the horizon, Williamson has been pleased with the resolve of the linebacking corps, and the ‘Jack defense in general, in building confidence and adopting to his philosophy. Come this fall, he’s excited to see the strides this defensive unit has made since day one.
“One thing I can tell you is that our kids are going to play hard,” Williamson said. “Regardless if we’re up 40 or if we’re down 40 (which isn’t going to happen), they’ll play hard every single snap because they believe in our system.
“There are two things that I can promise to the fans – you’ll never see a team play harder than us, and you’ll never see a team play more physical than us. If we can control those two things, then we’ve got about an excellent chance of winning the football game and being successful.”
2014 SFA Spring Practice Report/Schedule
Monday, March 24 - Q&A with head coach Clint Conque
Wednesday, March 26 - Quarterbacks
Friday, March 28 - Wide Receivers
Saturday, March 29 - Scrimmage One
Monday, March 31 - Running Backs
Wednesday, April 2 - Offensive Line/Tight Ends
Friday, April 4 - Defensive Line
Saturday, April 5 - Scrimmage Two
Monday, April 7 - Linebackers
Wednesday, April 9 - 8 p.m. (full pads)
Thursday, April 10 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Friday, April 11 - 4 p.m. (helmets)
Saturday, April 12 - 6:30 p.m. (spring game)