September 11, 2012

Wesley has first-rate secondary

More news about: Wesley
As a sophomore last season, Leon Jones had six picks, including this 99-yarder for a touchdown against Linfield in playoffs.
Wesley athletics photo

When you put on a Wesley College uniform, you expect to win. If you're a defensive back, you also expect to get the ball in your hands. Stellar secondary play has been a key to the Wolverines' consistent success. With two of the most accomplished defensive backs in recent years now on the sideline and in the film room, the current crop of DBs is getting an education.

Aaron Benson and Dakevis Howard combined for 19 career interceptions. Benson, a 2010 graduate, and Howard, a 2011 grad, are now members of the Wesley coaching staff, along with former Wesley defensive back Ariel Morales. The three former players coach the Wolverines secondary. Now that they see plays develop from a different angle, they have helped coach their former teammates to a dominant start to the 2012 season.

"The biggest difference looking at it now from when I played is that now I'm being more detailed," said Benson, a 2009 All-American safety. "Now I see things more from a film aspect."

Benson admits that he would have been an even better player had he spent more time in the film room during his playing days. Although he's just a couple years older than the current players, Benson has wisdom to impart.

"We work hard on being in position, seeing tendencies, looking at formations and what specific players like to do," said Benson.

The Wolverines are on pace to break school records for most interceptions and takeaways in a season. Through two games, Wesley has picked off seven passes and recovered two fumbles. The single season record for interceptions is 24, set by the 2001 team. The 2009 team set the mark with 39 takeaways.

Leon Jones has had a nose for the ball ever since he set foot on campus. As a freshman in 2010, he clinched Wesley's national quarterfinal win over Mary Hardin-Baylor by picking off a LiDarral Bailey pass with two seconds to play. Jones led the team with six interceptions last season, including two in the national semifinal loss to Mount Union. His 99-yard interception return spurred the Wolverines' comeback against Linfield in the second round. He knew coming in that he had big shoes to fill at cornerback.

"There was definitely hype having to follow Marcus Wilson," said Jones. Wilson graduated in 2010, fifth in school history with 13 career interceptions.

"We really work hard, listen to our coaches, and spend a lot of time watching film with our coaches," said Jones, whose 204 interception return yards last season nearly broke Benson's 2009 record of 208 yards.

Jones has yet to record his first takeaway of the 2012 season, but his teammates have stepped up. There is no weak spot in the Wolverines' secondary. Junior Jared Morris picked off four passes in the season-opening win over East Texas Baptist. It was the converted wide receiver's first game starting in the secondary. In last week's win over then-No. 6 Salisbury, junior Sean Hopkins, another converted wideout, picked off two passes. Junior Brian Snell added another pick, while Morris forced a Seagulls fumble.

The coaches are not surprised that their least experienced players have quickly become fierce ballhawks.

"I feel like any player back there can get four picks in a game if given the opportunities," said Benson.

Bailey and the fourth-ranked Crusaders come to Dover for a regular season showdown this Saturday. The Wolverines have intercepted Bailey four times in their past two meetings, both Wesley victories.

Jones knows that the time spent in the film room and on the practice field learning from mentors like Benson and Wilson has prepared him and his team to make big plays in big moments. There should be plenty of opportunities for the Wolverines' secondary to make their presence felt again on Saturday. Jones views forcing game-changing turnovers as just a part of his job as Wesley's starting cornerback.

"I just like winning," said Jones. "Defense wins games."

Number of the Week: 177. In my preseason column, I looked at the Gettysburg-Ursinus matchup as one that would be an exciting shootout. Only one team held up its end of the bargain. The Bullets held the Bears to 177 yards of total offense in a 48-7 pasting of the Centennial rival. Larry Delviscio led Gettysburg with 12 tackles. The Bullets had eight tackles for loss, stuffing Ursinus to just 17 net rushing yards. Meanwhile, the Bullets piled up 567 yards of offense. Ted Delia rushed 23 times for 121 yards and four scores.
Honorable mention to Ferrum's defense, which held Shenandoah to just 162 yards of offense and 46 passing yards. Chris Freycinet led the Panthers with 10 tackles, including two for loss.

Team of the Week: Hampden-Sydney. This is the Tigers team that we expected to see in 2012. Hampden-Sydney dominated Christopher Newport, 42-20. Quarterback Nash Nance was nearly flawless, completing 25 of 31 passes for 339 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Holton Walker hauled in six catches for 144 yards and two scores. Evan King added 82 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The Tigers led 42-0 heading into the fourth quarter. After its convincing performance, Hampden-Sydney cracked the Top 25, coming in at No. 24.

Looking Ahead: A no-brainer this week, as No. 3 Wesley hosts No. 4 Mary Hardin-Baylor. This should be nation's regular season game of the year.

Another non-conference marquee matchup features Washington and Lee hosting No. 23 Centre in the Generals' home opener. The Colonels have scored over 40 points in each of their first two games of the season, both wins. The Generals defense bounced back against Sewanee, holding the Tigers to six points after giving up 35 and a late game-winning score to Franklin and Marshall in Week 1. Doug Fraser and company will need to step up in order to slow the Colonels' offense that has piled up 965 yards in its first two games. Expect a high-scoring shootout with over one thousand combined yards of total offense under the lights in Lexington on Saturday night.

What Did I Miss? Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me at @adamturer or adam.turer@d3sports.com. Enjoy Week 3!

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season as Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist.

2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman 

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