A Look at the 2007 SFA Defense
Aug. 8, 2007
NACOGDOCHES - Despite its overwhelming youth, the 2006 Lumberjack defense proved to be the strongest in the Southland Conference during league competition. SFA led the league in total defense, rush defense and scoring defense during its six conference games.
The 'Jacks youth was nowhere more evident than the defensive front where SFA was starting three rookies by season's end. Oh what a difference a year makes. The negative that was the youth and inexperience of the 2006 team has become the positive in 2007. Last year's young, untested squad enters the 2007 campaign looking to build upon their success from a season ago.
The defense will be led by preseason All-American linebacker Damian Perkins, who led the SLC with 92 tackles and was among the league leaders with 11.5 tackles for losses. The scary thing about Perkins, or more correctly put, the scary thing facing opposing offensive coordinators, is that Perkins accomplished all that in his first season on defense. Perkins spent his rookie season as one of the team's top running backs.
Perkins will be joined at linebacker by 2007 honorable mention All-SLC selection Bug Aymond on the strong side and junior Brian Ford in the middle. Aymond made the switch from the 'Jacks secondary to linebacker last year and it was a move that paid off for then-defensive coordinator J.C. Harper. Aymond recorded 67 tackles, including 4.5 for losses, and 1.5 sacks. Aymond is the team's second-leading returning tackler.
Ford had been penciled in as the starter at middle linebacker coming out of spring drills, but has been slowed by a hamstring in the early part of camp. Ford recorded 25 tackles in a reserve role last season, but has the potential to be a defensive playmaker. A former six-man football standout at Calvert High School, Ford brings intimidating size and a ton of speed to the position. That to go along with another offseason of working with SFA Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Dan Eason, and Ford should be ready for a big junior season.
Expected to be heavily involved in the mix at linebacker are junior Jonathan Patke and redshirt freshman Terrance Nurse. Patke has the potential to be a starter and entered the 2006 season as a first teamer, but his first two seasons have been plagued with injury. If Patke can stay healthy, he will be a huge asset for SFA. Nurse has been surrounded by high expectations since his signing, and after a highly effective spring camp, he appears to be on his way to meeting those expectations.
Despite the defection of 2006 starter Scott Dover back to the offense, the SFA defensive line returns four starters. The returning starters include sophomores Daimyeon Hoskin, Tim Knicky and Robert Mayes, along with senior Ryan Mengo whose 2006 season was cut short when he was lost to an injury in the third game of the season.
Although Mengo's loss last season hurt the defense, it forced some younger players to be thrown in the fire early, and they came out refined as better players. Hoskin and Knicky were both named SLC honorable mention selections. Mayes stepped into the spot left open by Mengo's loss and filled the role admirably, recording 29 stops.
The return of Mengo will provide the 'Jacks' defensive front with some experience, which it desperately lacked last season, along with a huge presence in the middle. But Mengo will be in a dogfight to earn back his starting role after a strong spring from 6-2, 270-pound sophomore Kendall Jernigan. A Seagoville, Texas native, Jernigan was another one of the SFA rookies forced into early action during their rookie season.
Junior Stormy Wingo is listed as a starter at defensive end after a strong spring workout. With the return of Wingo, that provides SFA with two juniors on its defensive line, but even with all the returning talent, SFA will still be a very young squad.
The secondary was the spot on the SFA roster hit the hardest due to players running out of eligibility, losing four of five starters including two-time All-America Keldrick Holman, but even the secondary is not without returning talent. The 'Jacks return speed burners Stephon Rhea and Johnny Thacker. Both athletes have been starters during their career, and both will be counted on for their experience this season. SFA also returns sophomore Jonathan Botley, who started the first four games of the 2006 season, along with hard-hitting Cory Barlow will also figure into the mix.
This returning group will be surrounded by a host of redshirt freshmen who bring a wealth of talent to the field but just need game experience. Mesquite, Texas, freshman Jerrel Barnett enters fall camp as a starter at safety. Barnett will be joined by a 6-1, 205-pound prospect from Houston Bry Roby and 6-1, 180-pound Irving native Eric Griffin. Roby came out of spring ball listed as a reserve at the other safety position, while Griffin will be counted to contribute at a cornerback spot. All three showed flashes of brilliance during the spring and will be counted on to make a significant impact in the upcoming season.