LU secondary has strong mix of talent and youth
BEAUMONT – It has been noted how young the Lamar University receivers will be in 2016, but the players they face in the secondary every day in practice would be at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. The LU secondary returns names like seniors Xavier Bethany and Brendan Langley and sophomores Rodney Randle and Davon Jernigan which has some believing the Cardinals’ secondary could be one of the best in Southland Conference.
Three of the four previously listed names are returning starters, while the fourth – Jernigan – played in eight games last season. Bethany has been one of the league’s top safeties each of the past two seasons and has been recognized on the postseason all-conference squads during that stretch. Both Randle and Langley are preseason All-SLC picks (Randle was named as a return specialist), while Jernigan was one of the top recruits from the 2015 signing class.
While the Cards return some key players in the secondary, they all enter preseason camp looking to earn a starting role.
“We have to build depth,” said first-year defensive coordinator Trey Haverty. “We’ve been telling the defense that you win championships with twos and threes because things are going to happen throughout the year. I don’t know if we’re there yet, but we’ve got to continue to fight and get better. For these young guys they will get in the game if we trust them, and that trust is earned in practice.”
A second-team all-conference selection as a sophomore, Bethany has been among the team leaders in tackles each of the past two seasons and enters his senior campaign with nearly 200 career stops. Jernigan saw his playing time increase as the 2015 campaign wore on. He ended the season as one of eight Cardinals to pick off a pass last season.
“Xavier is a fun guy to coach,” said Haverty. “As a coach, you enjoy working with players who work hard and do the right things and he falls in that category. We’re glad to have him, and we have several others in the locker room who handle their business the same way. We try and tell those younger guys to model themselves after guys that do things the right way, and Xavier is one of those guys.”
The coaching staff is turning to its talented 2016 signing class to help provide depth at safety. The Cardinals added Blake George (5-11, 193, Humble, Texas), Caleb Abrom (6-0, 180, DeSoto, Texas) and Jaylon Bowden (5-11, 195, Blinn JC) on National Signing Day.
Bowden is the most experience of the three having transferred from the junior college ranks. Bowden was a three-star prospect from Blinn JC where he was rated as one of the top 25 junior college players in the state and one of the top 15 at his position. Abrom was also a three-star prospect coming out of DeSoto High School where he was ranked as the No. 14 safety in the state of Texas. George comes to Beaumont after a highly successful career at Humble High School. William McVay – a 2015 walk-on – is also fighting for playing time at safety.
“With young guys, you never know how they will respond until they’re in a game situation,” said Haverty. “It’s for that reason we make practices as hard as we can. We don’t want them getting into a game and get down on themselves if things aren’t going right. We want practices to be harder so games seem easier, that way they’re confident come game time.”
LU returns two of the most talented corners in the league in Randle and Langley. Randle is a local product who turned heads with his work on special teams last year, but also found considerable playing time in the secondary. He ended his rookie season with 28 tackles and was among the league leaders in interceptions.
“Both Brendan and Rodney work very hard on the field, and they do exactly what we ask of them,” said cornerback’s coach Willie Mack Garza. “This is a new system and they were able to get some experience with it during the spring and now it’s just a matter of executing the techniques.”
Langley brings unique experience with him to the defensive side of the ball that will aid him throughout his final collegiate season. The former Georgia transfer started his LU career on the offensive side of the ball as a receiver.
“His experience as a receiver definitely helps him on defense,” said Garza. “He understands route combinations, split combinations by receivers, drops by quarterback and the different formations. All of that places him in a position where he can better anticipate what the offense is doing which puts him in a position to make plays.
“As an athlete, our responsibility is helping make the team better, so when the coaches came to me with the idea of making the switch I was all for it. All I want to do his help make us a better team,” added Langley.
Another veteran corner on the 2016 roster is Lloyd Julian. The Bellaire, Texas native enters his final collegiate season having played in 32 games during his career earning 11 starts and recording 76 tackles.
“I think we’ve had a big jump in production from when the new coaches got here in the spring until now,” said Langley. “We’re definitely getting better every day. We brought in a lot of talented young players who have come in and made us stronger. The older guys have come in and done a good job being leaders, and it doesn’t seem like anyone has struggled with the jump to college.”
Another of the those players who is making the transition from high school standout to college freshman is 5-11, 160-pound Shyler Staton from Missouri City Ridge Point High School. Staton comes to Beaumont after a highly productive prep career where he was rated as two-star prospect.
“I have high expectations for Shyler Staton,” said Garza. “He is an incoming freshman who has picked up the system very well. I think we have a good group of corners who can execute and do what we need them to do on game day.”
Fans will have their first chance to see the LU secondary in action Saturday when it kicks off the season at home against Coastal Carolina. The game against the Chanticleers will kick off at 7 p.m. from Provost Umphrey Stadium. Tickets are available by logging on to www.LamarCardinals.com or by calling the LU Ticket Office at (409) 880-1715.