This is the final week that the Catamount Sports Network and CatamountSports.com will feature positional previews of the 2016 Catamount football team. Each feature contains the position write-ups from the 2016 Western Carolina media guide, and Catamount Sports Network All-Access video highlights and interviews with the position coach and student-athletes.
2016 Catamount Football Position Preview: the Defensive Backs
Western Carolina’s defensive secondary is a true blend of talent and experience. Among its top seven returners, the defensive backs have played in 149 combined games with 513 tackles – 3.4 average per game – with 14 combined interceptions over the past three seasons.
Headlining the returning group is senior Fred Payne, who is a vocal team leader. Payne finished the 2015 season ranked third on the team with a career-best 75 tackles including 22 solo stops and 5.0 TFLs.
WCU’s best returning cover corner is senior Trey Morgan. The North Augusta, S.C., native has started all 35 games in which he’s worn the Purple & Gold, and enters his senior season with a secondary-leading 171 career tackles – 4.89 average per game – and nine interceptions, just shy of WCU’s career top 10. Morgan, who is a two-time All-Southern Conference selection – three if you include his All-Freshman team nod in 2013 – also ranked tied for the team lead with five passes defended.
Both Payne and Morgan were preseason second team All-Southern Conference selections by the league’s head coaches.
Juniors A.J. Newman (21 career games played), Keion Crossen (23 career games played), and Tra Hardy (13 career games played) are among WCU’s most experienced returning reserves with Newman ranking tied for fourth on the WCU squad with 68 tackles in 2015 to give him 88 career stops. Crossen, who had a pair of interceptions last fall, has 37 career tackles while Hardy has 11 career tackles and also plays a key role in special teams. That trio is joined by redshirt junior Shane Samuels, who has 11 career games played, and sophomore Marvin Tillman who is coming off of a break-out SoCon All-Freshman season. Tillman made 47 stops in the secondary with an interception.
Entering fall camp, the Catamounts have several talented new faces that could contend for playing time in 2016 including redshirt sophomore transfer D’Andre Belton (Ridgeway, S.C.), freshmen John Brannon III (Charlotte, N.C.), Devarius Cortner (Nashville, Tenn.), Shamon Elliott (Fayetteville, N.C.), and Michael Murphy (Spartanburg, S.C.).
WCU has the task of replacing cornerstones in its defensive secondary over the past four years in Sertonuse Harris Jr. (166 career tackles, 1 INT in 46 career games) and corner Jaleel Lorquet (164 tackles, 4 INTs in 44 career games), both of whom graduated.
ADDITIONAL DEFENSIVE BACKS NOTES:
• Seven of WCU’s nine team interceptions in 2015 were made by defensive backs with Trey Morgan, Jaleel Lorquet, and Keion Crossen each making two apiece … WCU returns seven of its nine picks from a year ago with defensive backs Morgan (2), Crossen (2), and Marvin Tillman (1) joined by linebacker Daniel Riddle (2).
WCU Football 2016 Position-by-Position Preview (tentative schedule):
Offensive Line - WATCH
Defensive Line - WATCH
Tight Ends - WATCH
Linebackers - WATCH
Wide Receivers - WATCH
Special Teams - WATCH
Running Backs - WATCH
Defensive Backs - ABOVE
Quarterbacks- Aug. 25