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Nicholls defensive backs seek to make more plays
When it comes to getting interceptions, the Nicholls State defensive backfield was one of the best in the Southland Conference last season.
The Colonels picked off 14 passes last year, which was the third highest in the league behind Southeastern Louisiana (18) and Central Arkansas (17).
Nicholls State defensive coordinator Jeremy Atwell said the high number of interceptions were impressive, considering they were a young unit playing against several top opposing offenses and had a midseason defensive scheme change from the 4-3 to the 3-4.
But this year, Atwell said he wants the Colonels defensive backfield to grab more picks this season.
“Last year, I think there were 24 interceptions we left on the field that we had our hands on or that we missed,” Atwell said. “I think we had a good season, but that’s a lot of missed opportunities. We can’t leave those opportunities on the field this season.”
As the Colonels prepare for their season opener against Evangel University on Sept. 1, the defensive backfield have been focusing on the fundamentals and coverage scheme work during fall camp, which they hope will translate into creating more turnovers.
“You only get a chance every so often to make a play, so when that chance, we’re just trying to capitalize on it and make sure we do make that play,” Nicholls senior cornerback Chika Madu said.
While they were among the best in interceptions, the Colonels’ defense was second-to-last in pass defense, allowing 246.9 yards per game through the air.
Nicholls senior cornerback Bobby Felder, who earned first-team All-Southland preseason honors after finishing fourth in the conference in both interceptions (four) and passes defended (11), said the secondary is more prepared for its role in the 3-4 defense this season.
“We had our mistakes last year on defense,” Felder said. “This year we’re getting more mentally prepared for the game because you can’t really go out there the day of the game and try understand and learn everything and do everything. We’ve been working on pass defense and understanding what we’ve got to do before we go to practice because the better you get at practice, the better it is during the game, so we’re spending more time on getting mentally focused during meetings.”
Both Felder (33 tackles) and Madu (41 tackles, 12 pass breakups and an interception) will get the starting nod at cornerback for the Colonels this season. Their backups are senior De’Aryck Kelly and sophomore Brian Lewis.
Felder, who played alongside former teammates and current NFL players in Kareem Moore of the Washington Redskins and Lardarius Webb of the Baltimore Ravens earlier in his Nicholls career, said he is ready to step up as a senior leader on the Colonels defense, which returns 10 starters.
“Going into my last year of college football, it is in my best interest to help my team as much as I can,” Felder said. “I’m going to try to be a better leader. I want to be one of the guys to help lead the team. We return a lot of players on defense, so hopefully I can leave my mark and help the defense become the best possible defense it could be. That’s all I hope for.”
The safety spots will be led by returning sophomores Jordan Hanberry and Siegan Vergenal. Redshirt junior Kerry Guidry, a former H.L. Bourgeois standout, and sophomore T.J. Lumar will provide backup at safety.
Hanberry, who earned All-SLC honorable-mention honors last season, was the Colonels second leading tackler with 50 stops along with an interception. Vergenal finished with 37 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception.
After being thrown into the fire early as freshmen last year, Hanberry said the safeties are more experienced and battle-tested this season.
“I think playing last year helped a lot,” Hanberry said. “We’ve got great coaches and had a great Spring. We had a good thing going last year at the end of the season. I hope it just keep carrying over and we just keep getting better and better. We’re putting in a lot of more packages now. Everybody is more crisp knowing the defense, knowing schemes and exactly what we’ve got to do. We’re just moving a lot more faster and making more plays as a defense.”
Other defensive backs participating in fall camp are freshmen Davin Bowie, Byron Cobb, Jonathan Gibson, Jeffrey Abram, Darvin Butler and Josh Dewey.
Atwell said the defensive backfield has more depth this season, which has increased the competition in fall camp.
“We want to be aggressive in the secondary,” Atwell said. “The thing that fires me up is that don’t give up no big plays. I know that happens sometimes, but we want to eliminate big plays and go be aggressive at the same time. We want to make big plays for us, not big plays for them.”
The defensive backfield will have to face several tough offenses this season, but Madu said he is confident the unit will come together and get the job done.
“This defense can be the most dominant defense in the Southland Conference,” Madu said. “Just with the athletic ability we have alone. Whenever we’re all on the same page, we can really put our foot down and really stop the run and pass. We’ve got smart guys. We got a lot of people coming back from last year, so that helps out a lot. I feel like our defense is real strong and can help this team win games.”
By Chris Singleton, Daily Comet