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Big men on campus hope to plug holes in the JSU Tiger defense
Jonathan Billups weighs 340 pounds and stands 6 feet 1 inches tall.
And he’s the smaller of Jackson State’s two defensive tackles.
“We pride ourselves in being big,” said fellow tackle Luis McLeod, who measures 6-3, 360.
McLeod and Billups - if you haven’t already calculated - weigh a combined 700 pounds.
It’s exactly what Jackson State wants and needs, a couple of massive plugs in the middle of a defense that struggled mightily last season to stop the run.
Billups, a junior out of Picayune who started last season, and McLeod, a junior out of Gainesville, Fla., are two big guys expected to clog things up, coach Rick Comegy said.
“They’re big and strong,” he said. “You’re going to have to do something to block them, double-team them, things of that nature. That’ll let the linebackers run free.”
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work: McLeod and Billups control the interior of the offensive line, stuffing pulling linemen and creating a jumbled mess in the middle to allow linebackers to find running backs.
It’s something that didn’t happen often last season, leading to the worst defensive showing in Comegy’s five years at the school:
•A rushing defense that allowed 165 yards a game - 80th in the Football Championship Subdivision and ninth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
•Four teams ran for more than 200 yards and one - Grambling - had a staggering 371 yards.
•Five rushers had 100-yard games and two of those had 200-yard outings.
“Last year, guys ran on us,” Billups said. “None of that this year. That’s over with.”
Said McLeod: “We don’t plan on too much running to be done on us.”
So, at least the confidence is high between these two interior tackles. And so are the pounds.
“I don’t mind being big,” McLeod said. “As long as I’m able to run.”
The Tigers’ two big boys do more than play next to each other. They eat together, too.
Just a few days ago, the duo could be found at Sal and Mookie’s, a New York-style pizza restaurant in Fondren and McLeod’s favorite Jackson eatery.
Ever try any of those all you can eat buffets?
“We try to stay out of there,” McLeod said smiling.
Before the season begins, though, Billups would like to drop about 10 pounds, an effort to replace leaner departing tackle Neal Pogue as a pass rusher as well as a run-stopping force.
“I’m trying to take that position how Pogue was last year. I was the big guy, he was the quick one,” Billups said. “I’m trying to see if I can be the quick one this year.”
That’s proving true through the first two weeks of fall camp.
Billups has spent plenty of time in the backfield. He had a sack during Wednesday’s 11-on-11 session and had two sacks in a 20-play scrimmage last Friday.
He shined in Saturday’s scrimmage, too, pressuring quarterback Casey Therriault into multiple throw-aways and dropping running backs for a loss or no gain.
Can’t forget about McLeod, the big plug in the middle.
So far, the two are putting the kibosh on JSU’s running game in practice.
An example: During an 11-play goal-line scrimmage Wednesday, rushers were dropped for a loss or no gain on six plays. It’s just what Comegy wants to see.
“Our defensive philosophy for sure is to stop the running game first,” he said. “You stop the running game, you go from there.”