“It looks like four of our five starters could be sophomores,” said defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Steve Boyd. “Two of them are returning starters and another guy played a lot last year. Hopefully, that experience will pay off for us.”
But the Bobcats have already had to fight adversity in the preseason.
The projected No. 1 free safety heading into fall camp was Leslie Agee (5-10, 180), a sophomore from Bay Springs. But he injured a knee early in practice and is out for the season.
“Agee gets hurt in practice on a freak injury where nobody touches him,” said Boyd, who is being helped by graduate assistant Randy Craft. “That’s one of those things that happens in football. He worked all spring and summer to get ready for the season and two weeks before the first game, he gets hurt.”
Projected as starting cornerbacks at the moment are sophomore Antonio Parker (5-11, 195) of New Orleans, La., and sophomore Deneco Hathorn (5-9, 185) of Collins.
“Antonio is a two-year starter and a really good football player,” Boyd said of Parker, who was an All-MACJC selection last season. “He has Division I-type talent and can really play. Deneco is small, but has good feet, good hips and can really play the position. And he can hit.”
Sophomore Mitchell Brown (5-10, 200) of Greene County – who was at quarterback last year – is battling West Jones freshman Devontay Barnett (6-1, 190) at strong safety, while freshman Deon Fairley (6-1, 200) of Taylorsville is at free safety.
“Deon can fill the void left by Agee,” Boyd said. “He got here in July and is still learning what to do. But we feel good about having him out there. He is picking up the system well. Mitchell is listed as No. 1 strong safety, mainly because Devontay just got here this summer. He and Devontay are really neck-and-neck, but I put Mitchell there because he is a sophomore.
“Mitchell is making the transition from quarterback. But he’s got that ‘quarterback play’ out of his system now.”
Sophomore Chris Smith (5-11, 205) of Laurel is listed No. 1 at the “Bobcat” position. The “Bobcat” is a hybrid position where the player can be in the secondary or close to the line.
“Chris is another Division I-caliber guy,” Boyd said. “He is a good football player, but he may be a better person than he is a football player.
Also working at the cornerback slots are freshmen Fernando Hamilton (5-9, 180) of Taylorsville, Michael McLaurin (6-2, 180) of Collins and Corey Trim (5-10, 175) of Baton Rouge, La.
“Hamilton just got here. He was going to William Carey and play baseball, but decided to come here and play football and baseball,” Boyd said. “He seems to be a good player and I’m expecting good things out of him, too.
“McLaurin has been doing a good job in practice and is working hard for us. Corey is a great asset to us because he can play either side. He will be a dual-type guy and that really helps us. If somebody gets hurt at either side, he can play. Plus, he’s a good special teams player.
At the No. 2 “Bobcat” slot is freshman Phylandus Powe (5-11, 195) of Quitman.
“Powe was here last year and he hustles real well,” said Boyd “He tries hard to be in position.”
The Bobcats will also utilize the services of one of their talented wideouts to help on defense.
Sophomore Jonathan “J.D.” Ducksworth, one of the starting wide receivers, will see action at free safety to help with the lack of depth caused by Agee’s injury.
“J.D. knows the offense, so he was the guy we felt we could move over from wide receiver and play two ways,” Boyd said. “He knows what to do on offense, so missing a few reps over there won’t really hurt him.”
Boyd is optimistic that the secondary will gel with the linebackers and defensive line to form a solid unit this season.
“Overall, I want to say we’ll be better than last year,” he said. “I think we finished fourth in total defense in the state and we want to improve on that number. We always want to strive to be the best we can be.”
The Bobcats open the season at home at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1 in Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field against Mississippi Delta Community College. The game will be televised on www.jcjc.tv and can be heard on WGDQ-FM, 93.1. Lance Pittman will call the play-by-play and Mark Easley provides commentary.