April 10, 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 wraps up our look at the SFA defensive unit, looking at the 'Jacks corners and safeties. 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 – Few positions in football have as little margin of error as does the defensive secondary. Missed assignments and being out of position at other points across the field can be minimalized by other players, but a mistake on the last line of defense generally leads to points on the scoreboard.
With spring workouts nearing the finish line, the SFA corners and safeties have hit the field with intensity and a singular focus of making sure those mistakes don’t happen in 2014.
Safe to say – the Lumberjack defensive units, especially the secondary, are heading into the new season with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders.
“If they don’t, they should,” said assistant coach Mike Walton, SFA’s safeties coach. “There’s nothing wrong with a program being known for something. Every school in America probably has something that somewhat defines their team, but the offense that SFA ran in the past probably bred a little bit into the defensive identity. When you have a team that scores fast and scores often, it puts a lot of pressure on a defense, especially later in the game when they’ve been on the field so much. It’s certainly a motivation for us to help change the perspective of this defensive unit.”
After giving up nearly 50 points and 340 passing yards a game in 2013, the SFA secondary knows it has something to prove moving forward. The emphasis of the defensive staff, beginning with defensive coordinator Matt Williamson, is to have one of the most physical and toughest defensive units in the country, and it is a role the secondary has really embraced.
“The style of defense we’re evolving into (the 4-2-5), our secondary is going to be a lot more involved, especially when it comes to the run,” Waton said. “That’s going to provide a lot more opportunities for some guys to step up. But if you’re not tough and you’re not physical, you’re going to have a hard time in this secondary.”
The transformation of the SFA defensive secondary has begun at the corner position where the ‘Jacks have had a pair of experienced seniors anchoring both sides of the field. Keavon Madison is the top returning corner from 2013, registering 34 tackles and an interception in six games. He has been joined on the opposite side by senior Maurice Poullard who transferred to SFA from UTSA and has emerged as an on-field leader as well.
“With Keavon and Maurice having being seniors and having been in the fire, I’ve definitely been leaning on them,” said cornerback coach Terry Mills. “They’ve both had a good spring and have really coached up some of the younger players. I look at them as coaches on the field and I expect a lot out of them, and in turn they expect a lot out of the younger players.”
Junior Demundre Freeman has had a strong camp as well, looking to build off his 28-tackle performance last season. Sophomore Eugene Wright has been a key figure for the ‘Jacks after seeing limited playing time in 2013 and newcomer Travaine Strong has also impressed the coaching staff, elevating himself to second on the depth chart behind Poullard.
The SFA safeties also have a veteran leader in senior Trey Vallier, who ranked fifth on the team in tackles last season (48) and was the ‘Jacks leader in both interceptions (four) and pass breakups (eight). He is joined at the free safety position by sophomore JC Franklin, who notched six tackles in four games last year for SFA, and newcomer James Triplett.
At the strong safety position, sophomore Avery Henderson has been a key performer all spring and appears ready to take on a larger leadership role after recording 11 tackles in nine games in 2013. Junior Steven Cunigan and redshirt freshman Jonathan Layssard have both had meaningful reps during the spring practices as well, making key plays throughout the three-week camp.
In making the transition to the 4-2-5, SFA will also utilize senior Nick Bryant and sophomore Patrick Martin in certain looks as the two have shown their versatility in being able to play both the linebacker and secondary positions.
As prolific as the SFA offense has been for the past few seasons, the Lumberjack defensive unit is ready to make a name for itself as well. The defensive secondary is fine with the offense continuing to rewrite the record books. That just puts them in prime position to make the knockout blow.
“As a defensive staff we’ve talked about giving ourselves an identity,” said Mills. “For a long time, SFA has had that identity as an explosive offensive team and the defense hasn’t lived up to that. So for the three weeks that has been our focus – just playing together and raising our level of performance, and they are really buying in to the new system. They are hungry to change everyone’s perspective.”
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 - Secondary
Thursday, April 10 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Friday, April 11 - 4 p.m. (helmets)
Saturday, April 12 - 6:30 p.m. (spring game)