(Neb.)- More Players Strengthen CSC Defensive Backfield
CHADRON, Neb. -- Because of injuries, keeping things in order in the defensive backfield was a challenge for Chadron State College coaches last fall. Two of the starters were sidelined early in the season, one of their replacements was lost halfway through the schedule and several young players had to be rushed into action ahead of schedule.
The biggest surprise was Joey Hopkins. He was a wide receiver, but wasn't seeing much action there and quickly switched to safety. Guess what? He wound up as the Eagles' second leading tackler for the season, despite not playing in the first two games. Three times he was credited with at least a dozen tackles. He also intercepted a pair of passes.
Since Hopkins was a senior last fall, he has to be replaced. Fortunately, there's a lengthy list of candidates. Jeff Larson believes the team has the most experience and depth in the secondary that it's had in the six years he's been the defensive coordinator.
"Things are looking up," Larson said. "We have five seniors, including two of the guys who were injured last year. We also have another player who started for us two years ago available again, we've added a transfer and have some others who learned a lot after they had to play last fall. We just need to keep them all healthy."
A discussion of the Eagles' secondary usually starts with Brian and Ryan Wood, twins from Stockton, California, who, when healthy, are dynamic players.
Ryan was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2013, received first-team all-conference the next year when he took part in 84 tackles, had two interceptions and broke up seven more passes and was All-RMAC honorable mention in 2015 when he was credited with 87 stops.
Wood was looking forward to what was supposed to be his senior season last fall, but was sidelined by a rib injury and a punctured lung in the third game of the season, and received a medical redshirt, allowing him to play again this fall.
Brian, who was not in school during what would have been his sophomore season, returned in 2015 and has been a leader the past two years, taking part in 61 and 59 tackles, respectively.
"They have speed, are athletic, are physical and can play any of the positions," Larson noted. "We play better defense when they're on the field."
The other seniors include cornerbacks Steve Allen, a transfer last fall who filled a big need while breaking up nine passes and defending 11 more, and Trevon Mosley, who was helping take up the slack caused by injuries a year ago when he required knee surgery.
Also returning is DeAndre Barthwell, who became a starting cornerback as a true freshman in 2015, but missed last season. Larson says he's especially good in coverage.
The coach is also impressed with Chris Harris, a rangy transfer from Montana State at Bozeman.
Other candidates for playing time, primarily at safety, include junior Zech James, one of the team's surest tacklers; Demetrius McFadden, a slender but dedicated and speedy sophomore who is called "Rabbit" by his teammates; and senior Nick Colgate, who also is the team's long snapper.
A pair of second cousins from the Panhandle also are bidding for playing time. They are Micah Scherbarth, a graduate of Gordon-Rushville High, who, in Larson's words, "goes 120 miles an hour all the time," and Lane Jersild of Chadron, who seems to have finally overcome a long list of medical problems, including a badly damaged toe caused by a weight room accident last spring.
Both redshirt freshman Cole Thurness, last year's Defensive Player of the Year on the scout team, and true freshman Dylan Marsh of Poudre High in Fort Collins, are among others being groomed for at least some action this season and to play larger roles next season when the seniors are missing.
There also are 12 more freshmen on the roster who are slated to redshirt this fall. Larson said two of the most promising are Brendan Brehmer of Alliance, a first-team Class B all-state choice as a junior when he intercepted five passes, and Zach Carlson, whose family moved from Iowa to the Hyannis area last February. Carlson placed in three sprints for the Longhorns at the Nebraska State Track and Field Meet in May.
"We learned last year that you can never have too many defensive backs," Larson said. "Besides covering receivers and knocking down passes, they're handy to have on special teams because they usually run well and like to hit."
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