The Red’s secondary defense this year will, for the most part, be young and fairly inexperienced. Both starting defensive backs — Jarrod Watson-Lewis and Kendall Brown — are freshmen, and the starting safeties — junior Kevin Laird and sophomore Rush Miller — have very little collegiate experience. Miller was a backup free safety last year who played limited time in the team’s 10 games, recording six tackles and one interception — which he returned for a touchdown. Laird played most of his time on special teams and is returning to the safety position this year.
“Really our entire secondary is brand new as it relates to experience,” said head coach Kent Austin. “As time goes on and they play more together and play more as a unit, the entire unit will get better as each individual gets better.”
Though it may be a risk for the Red to put such a young secondary out on the field this season, Austin hopes that he will be able to keep these players in starting roles for multiple years.
“We went young and just hope that it pays off down the road and we are really confident it will,” he said.
The youth of the secondary will, however, be balanced by the experience of senior defensive co-captain and safety Mike Hernandez. He had 30 tackles, two pass breakups and a tackle for loss last season, which got him on ESPN’s Top-10 Plays of the Week for a 60-yard tackle for loss after a blocked punt. He also recorded seven tackles in the loss to Fordham last weekend.
“Mike Hernandez is really the de facto leader back there,” Austin said. “He had an unbelievable game [against Fordham]. He had a ton of tackles and he is a high energy guys so he raises the whole atmosphere of the defense, especially the back end.”
The squad’s secondary will be especially important for the team this year in cutting down on their opponents passing yardage in the open field. According to Austin, the defensive backs will have to be very versatile this year.
“The secondary has a lot of responsibilities. It’s all coordinated with the front and … in our defense the way it is configured, they have to be able to play man coverage and different zone coverage schemes,” he said. “They have to be great open field tacklers and they have to be playmakers.”
Though it may seem like a lot to ask of a group made up primarily of underclassmen, the Red’s secondary did show promise in its first game of the season. Laird grabbed two interceptions and the two freshmen backs combined for 16 total tackles. Austin also expressed confidence that his secondary will continue to develop with the help of upperclassmen leadership, which he believes is still flourishing.
“We really believe on this football team that you don’t appoint leaders, you earn it,” he said. “Everybody can lead; we feel like leadership is a pearl. That’s more a condition of the character and your integrity and how you handle things.”