Aug. 15, 2012
BEAUMONT - The Southland Conference boasted three of the top 15 passing offenses in the country last season. It should be more of the same in 2012 and Lamar University will rely heavily on its defensive backs to keep passing offenses in check.
Lamar has 12 players fighting for playing time in the defensive backfield, and eight of them have at least one letter in a Cardinal uniform. Senior Jordan Garrett, a former West Brook High School star, came home after one season at Tulane to help build the Lamar program. Garrett believes that his hard work is going to pay off this season.
"It being my last year, I came home with a purpose," said Garrett, who finished with 23 tackles and a forced fumble in 2011. "That was to put the Golden Triangle on the map and help start a legacy. Before I leave, I have to raise the bar. My last year is really dedicated to putting it out there to let them know that Lamar is no pushover school. We're here to play ball."
The Cardinals ranked fifth in the Southland Conference in 2011 after allowing 211.7 yards passing per game. Under new defensive coordinator Bill Bradley and defensive backs coach Allen Johnson, Lamar is looking to improve on that average. With just over a week of preseason practice out of the way, Johnson is encouraged by the progress that has already taken place.
"Camp is going really well," said Johnson. "Jordan Garrett and Chad Allen are returning starters and they have improved a lot especially since the spring. Right now, they are by far the two best safeties that we have. We have four guys who will see significant play at corner, but all of them are doing really, really well."
Allen is the leading returning tackler in the secondary after totaling 41 stops last season as a sophomore. The Coldspring native tied for second on the team with two interceptions and came out of spring practice first on the depth chart at free safety.
The six other returnees for Lamar in the defensive backfield are senior Adrian Guillory
, senior Stephone Mercer
, senior Steven Murray-Sesay
, junior Keinon Peterson
, junior Branden Thomas
and sophomore Josh Wilson
Guillory finished his junior campaign with 35 tackles and a team-leading three interceptions for 75 return yards. The former Central High School and Navarro College standout took his first Division I interception back 38 yards for a touchdown in Lamar's 58-0 season-opening win over Texas College last year.
Peterson finished with 23 tackles and an interception, while Thomas battled injuries all year in totaling 11 tackles and a pick in seven games played. Murray-Sesay returns for his final season after missing last year due to injury. As a junior in 2010, he posted 35 tackles and five pass breakups.
Junior college transfers Nashon Davis, Tyrus McGlothen and Courtlin Thompson, and freshman Xavier Bethany will also be in the mix for playing time. Lamar has not had this much depth at the position in its first two years of play after reinstating the sport for the 2010 season.
"Hopefully I'm going to have about eight guys who can rotate in the secondary," said Johnson. "In recruiting, we had to get depth and we went out and got that with the junior college kids. We probably didn't have the depth in the last two years and it's really going to help us be better in the secondary."
Johnson sees the defensive backs' role as not only shutting down the pass, but also working within the framework of Bradley's defense to support the front seven and stop the run.
"We are just some hard-working DBs back there," said Johnson about his group. "We are just a hard-working unit and we just grind. The guys have bought in to what we're doing here at Lamar with the new coordinator coming in and it's good."
This is a sentiment echoed by Garrett who sees a change in attitude among his teammates.
"We didn't have as many players buying in to what was going on," said an enthusiastic Garrett about the mental change on the team. "Now the younger guys come in and they want to watch film, they want to get better. They actually compete and match the tempo that we bring to practice. That's the positive thing and that's what we've seen change over the years.
"The younger guys are open to learning and willing to match the intensity that the older guys bring. The older guys seem to want it more. We seem to want this championship mentality where we want to win. When you come to practice, it's about winning and nothing else."
Lamar opens the season at Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. The Cardinals' home opener will be the following Saturday (Sept. 8) at 7 p.m. when Prairie View A&M visits Provost Umphrey Stadium. Lamar will host five games following the Prairie View A&M contest. Highlights of the home schedule include the homecoming contest against McMurray at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 and a Southland Conference game against national runner-up Sam Houston State at 3 p.m. Oct. 27.
Tickets can be purchased at the Montagne Center ticket office, by calling (409) 880-1715, or visiting www.LamarCardinals.com.