Despite Key Losses, Defense Should Be Strong in 2011
Aug. 14, 2011
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Since the Stephen F. Austin football team made the switch to the spread offense, they have received the majority of the headlines, but that doesn't mean that the Lumberjack defense should be overlooked.
Over the course of the past three seasons, it has been the defense that has come out on top in a majority of the scrimmages. The defense has produced several All-Americans during that stretch, including the last two Southland Conference Defensive Players of the Year, and linebacker Jabara Williams was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the 2011 NFL draft. During the summer, Williams was joined by Lumberjack teammate Kenneth Charles when he signed a free agent contract with the Rams.
In the past two seasons, the defense has been very consistent surrendering only 22 points per game to its opponents. If you throw out the team's lone game against FBS-opponent Texas A&M last season, SFA surrendered less than 17 points per game during the regular season.
The Lumberjacks also finished among the nation's elite in sacks and tackles for losses. SFA finished third in the nation in sacks (3.42 pg) and fourth in tackles for losses (8.33 pg) during that stretch. The defense has held 11 opponents to 14 points or less during its two conference title runs, and six teams to 10 or less.
The Lumberjacks have graduated three All-Americans from its defensive ranks during the past two seasons, but that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare. The Lumberjacks will still be very strong at linebacker with the return of all-conference selections Devin Ducote and Derrick Choice. This duo has been among the league leaders in tackles each of the past three seasons, and Ducote has the added motivating factor of being the lone remaining letterwinner from the team's 0-11 campaign in 2007. After sitting out the 2008 year with an injury, Ducote has the opportunity to close out his career with three conference titles. Ready to join them in the starting lineup is junior Ryan Epperson who recorded 63 tackles during 2010 season.
The Lumberjack secondary could be the strongest it has been during its recent run of success. The Lumberjacks return two of the top corners in the nation in Ben Wells and Josh Aubrey. A transfer from Texas, Wells came in and had an immediate impact last season earning all-conference recognition, while Aubrey was a first-team all-conference selection as a sophomore. Sophomore Caleb Nelson was among the team leaders with 66 tackles from his safety position to earn honorable mention All-SLC recognition as a freshman. One of the biggest additions to the Lumberjack secondary will be the return Jordan Aubrey. A starter at the beginning of the 2010 season, Jordan missed the majority of the year due to injuries, but appears ready to reclaim his starting role.
The Lumberjacks took a heavy toll on the defensive line at the end of the year, with three of four starters exhausting their eligibility, but the returnees all saw plenty game time last season. Corey Hill started eight games as a rookie and is the only returning starter from last season on the line. He will be joined by classmates Malcolm Mattox and Darren Robinson who saw just as much game time on the ends as the starters by season's end. Similar to Jordan Aubrey, the line will be energized by the return of Jacob Fincher who was a key addition prior to the 2009 season. Fincher has played both on the interior and ends during his career, and can be a game changer for the Lumberjack defense. SFA also brought in several athletes during the signing period who will be expected to compete right away.
The Lumberjack defense will receive its first test when it opens the season, Thursday, Sept. 1, against McMurry. The game is slated to begin at 2 p.m. from Homer Bryce Stadium.