NACOGDOCHES, TX (Press Release)- Three seasons ago, the Stephen F. Austin defensive secondary was seen as one of the major question marks, and for just cause. The 'Jacks' last line of defense was giving up an average of 338 passing yards and 49.3 points per game and saw a number of explosive plays race past them on the way to the endzone.
Fast forward to 2016 and there is a new attitude in the defensive backfield, especially among the safety unit. In the past two seasons under assistant coach Mike Walton, the SFA safeties have trimmed those numbers to 222 passing yards and 28.5 points in 2014 and 248 passing yards and 32.9 points last year.
A key component for the improvement has a lot to do with the experience the Lumberjacks return in the backfield. SFA returns three senior starters in Patrick Martin, Zack Starnes andGermod Williams as the trio combined for 111 tackles and a pair of interceptions in 2015.
A number of underclassmen also saw significant playing time last year, specifically juniors Ahmad Muhammad and sophomores Lawrence Ghansah and Trevon Smith, both of which figure to factor into the mix early and often. Add in redshirt freshman Alize Ward, who caught the attention of the coaches in the fall, freshman signee Trey Ramos and newcomers Zack Kanipes and Hunter Cabral and the 'Jacks head into the fall with something to prove.
That group of talented players had another opportunity to make their mark Wednesday afternoon as the Lumberjacks practiced in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) for the first time in fall camp. It was another sweltering East Texas afternoon with actual temperatures hovering around 98 and the heat index surpassing 110.
With the 'Jacks having a little bit more armor in their favor, the first hits of the fall camp began early as SFA pitted offense against defense in the infamous "cage drill." In a nutshell, an offensive player and a defensive player square off one-on-one, seeing who can get their opponent on the ground. The physicality served as a welcomed release of aggression, leading into the third camp of the fall season.
The third practice of fall camp was the longest to date, running 22 periods with more emphasis on special teams situations. The safeties each made some key plays during seven-on-seven and full squad situations, including a fumble recovery and return for Ward.
With the third practice complete, the install phase of Conque's camp schedule now shifts to repetition, focusing on mastering the play book while continuing to develop fundamentals. SFA fans will get their first look at what the 'Jacks will offer this Saturday in the first scrimmage of fall camp, getting underway at 4 p.m. at Homer Bryce Stadium.