SC STATE FOOTBALL: Bulldogs have new faces in secondary | SC State Athletics

TRAVIS BOLAND T&D Sports Editor

While South Carolina State returns the majority of its defense from last year’s HBCU national championship team, there are two key pieces that must be replaced.

Cornerbacks Decobie Durant and Zafir Kelly are working toward becoming professionals while their former teammates continue with spring practice.

Durant and Kelly were named first-team All-MEAC a year ago, and Durant was named the conference’s defensive player of the year. They combined for six interceptions, which is nearly half of the 13 SC State totaled a year ago.

“We still got guys back there,” SC State defensive coordinator Jonathan Saxon said Tuesday. “Jalen Barr, Duane Nichols, Jaylen Evans, DeMarkiis Doe and Kendall Moultrie have played a lot of football.”

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Redshirt sophomore Barr led the secondary in tackles from his safety position last season. He finished with 42 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups. Evans, a redshirt junior, had 41 total tackles, six pass breakups and an interception.

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Saxon said he has been looking at Jamare Benjamin at one corner position. The freshman from Spartanburg played in nine games last season and record 18 tackles and a pass breakup.

“(Benjamin) started three games for us when Zafir missed time with an ankle injury,” Saxon said. “He and Michael Brunson are two that we just have to continue to develop and push them to continue building on the foundation.”

Brunson, a freshman from Calhoun County, recorded 14 tackles in seven games last season and intercepted a pass against North Carolina Central.

With the talent returning on the defensive line and linebacker positions, quarterbacks may find it difficult finding the time to throw to open receivers.

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“It’s always important to put pressure on the quarterback,” Saxon said. “We believe in stopping the run. The front seven is huge because they have a lot of ability, but we’re starting from ground zero. Now is a new year, the biggest thing is polishing things us we messed up in the fall, and taking it into this year. We rely heavily on defensive linemen and linebacker, and we have a lot of those guys returning. “

The Bulldogs opened their second week of spring practice Tuesday after putting on pads over the weekend. Saxon said he is pleased with what he has seen from his secondary after four practices.

“We’ve seen a lot of good things (from the secondary) so far this spring,” Saxon said. “We have a lot of new faces and guys seem to be competing. Our guys are buying in to what we want to get done, buying into the system and working hard to get it done. “

South Carolina State recently signed six defensive backs in the latest recruiting class, including Class A all-state player Patrick Anderson from Lamar High School.

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“There are a couple of guys in the new class that we’re looking at, but we won’t know anything until they get here and get in the system,” Saxon said. “We’re excited about the class we signed, hopefully those guys can come in this fall and contribute.”

SC State will continue spring practice Thursday and is scheduled to have its first scrimmage Saturday, April 9. The “Garnet and Blue” spring game is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, at 1 pm

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