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Bucs’ secondary gearing up for another big season

Joe Avento • Aug 20, 2019 at 7:08 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The back end of the East Tennessee State football team’s defense is out to prove it can match — or exceed — its stellar performance from last season.

The Bucs led the Southern Conference with 15 interceptions and allowed a league-low 11 touchdown passes. It all added up to the best pass defense in the conference, and it was one of the reasons ETSU won a share of the conference championship and participated in the FCS playoffs.

With almost everybody back, there’s no reason to think the secondary won’t be able to pick up right where it left off.

“I expect to see great things coming from the secondary,” cornerback Jeremy Lewis said. “We know as a secondary producing the numbers that we did, we have a target on our backs. A lot of teams are going to try us and I expect them to.

“I want them to try us. I believe we have the best secondary in the conference, and I trust all my brothers on the backside. When it comes down to it, they’re going to get the job done. We bring a whole bunch of energy and we bounce off each other.”

Tyree Robinson was the undisputed leader of the defensive backfield last season. The safety led the Bucs with six interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown. He was also fourth on the team with 71 tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Wofford.

In addition, he tied for the team lead with cornerback Karon Delince with 11 pass breakups.

Robinson was an All-America selection after last season and has shown up on some preseason All-America teams this month.

Delince, a cornerback, is also a SoCon sprint champion on the track. He had three interceptions during the team’s first preseason practice.

“Football’s my No. 1 thing, my passion,” Delince said. “Track makes me better for football.”

Artevius Smith, a backup at safety last season, is back for his senior year. Last season, he was named the SoCon’s defensive player of the week award for his two-interception effort against Mercer after starter Titus Tucker was ejected thanks to a targeting call.

Tucker, who returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown in the Bucs’ playoff loss to Jacksonville State last season, is no longer on the team.

MJ Woods is back after missing most of last season with a wrist injury. He looked like someone who would play a lot the rest of the way before he was hurt.

While the secondary did its part limiting the opposition last season, the ETSU offense managed to pull a fast one in the team’s last scrimmage Saturday night. The defense definitely had the better of it most of the night, but one play-action pass that resulted in a touchdown fooled the defense, with both safeties biting hard on the run.

“That little play action, that was a good scheme set up by coach (Randy) Sanders,” Robinson said. “I know his offense is run to mess up our defense. He kind of fooled us on that one.”

On the surface, the Bucs’ secondary seems set, but Robinson knows some of the talented youngsters on the team are going to be called upon to provide some depth.

“It’s like family,” he said. “They’re our little brothers, and they’re taking another step toward manhood. They’re becoming our teammates, and we’re trying to prepare them for what’s next. We’ll definitely need them.”