Heading into the 2014 season, it was expected that the Huskies would need to fill several positions on defense, as they lost six primary starters and several key reserves to graduation on that side of the ball.
Yet, at no position is that fact more evident that at cornerback, where they lost four members of that group following the 2013 season and had a fifth (Marlon Moore) move to safety.
Despite the losses, though, cornerbacks coach Kelvin Sigler feels confident about his crew so far in camp.
“I like the effort that the cornerbacks are giving out there,” he said. “I think they are doing a great job of competing. We’ve got some young guys out there – five true freshmen – and two old guys and their trying to get on the field and play.
“It’s not really a big concern because all the guys are hungry. They’re just soaking it in the meeting room and learning everything. They’re taking it out to the field and competing every day.”
The most notable carryover from last year’s group is junior Paris Logan (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge), who led the NIU cornerbacks with 42 tackles, seven pass breakups and an interception in 2013. In addition, the Columbia, Missouri, native started nine of NIU’s final 11 contests a season ago.
“I don’t really have that mindset,” Logan said about being the team’s top cornerback. “I’m just trying to get better and make sure our young guys are getting better. The young guys are pushing me to be the best guy I can be out there on the field.”
With the position being so young, Logan has emerged as the proverbial leader of the group and guided the newcomers through the grueling preseason practices.
“Paris is doing a good job for us,” Sigler said. “He started becoming the leader this spring, carried it over into the summer and now into fall camp. He’s doing an excellent job over there and getting the young kids ready.”
Joining Logan as the elder statesmen of the position group is sophomore Anthony Brooks (Detroit, Mich./Warren Mott). Despite seeing action primarily on special teams in 2013, the Detroit, Michigan, native put together a stellar spring and drew praise from the coaching staff for his progress.
“Anthony’s been solid,” Sigler said. “He’s coming out and competing every day and he’s trying to lead, too. He’s the next oldest of the group, so he’s coming out and helping the young guys out, too.”
After Logan and Brooks is a young, yet highly talented group of true freshmen composed of Deion Hallmon (Weston, Fla./Cypress Bay), Tifonte Hunt (Harvey, Ill./Thornton Township), Shawun Lurry (West Palm Beach, Fla./W.T. Dwyer), Mayomi Olootu (Allen, Texas/Allen) and Albert Smalls (Miramar, Fla./Monsignor Pace), along with redshirt freshman and local product Jimmy Russell (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb).
“All five of (the true freshmen) are really sticking out,” Sigler said. “Albert Smalls has been a pleasant surprise and has been doing a good job for us. Shawun Lurry has been making plays throughout camp. Mayomi Olootu has been doing a great job for us. We also have Tifonte Hunt and Deion Hallmon. They all are coming out every day and competing.”
The new group has also gotten positive reviews from Logan.
“I feel like all our freshman corners are really aggressive,” he said. “The play the ball real well and get to the ball. They understand our defense and are picking up things real fast and competing. That’s what we want out of our freshmen.”
As for expectations on the season from the group, both Sigler and Logan believe that consistent performances from the group will pay big dividends.
“We want to be better than we were last year,” Sigler said. “We gave up some yards last year and have a better group this year – even though they’re young – just because the guys are hungry and they compete every day. We just want to guys to be consistent.”
“Our goals this year are to be the most physical group of our defense,” Logan said. “We want to lead our defense, get to the ball and play fast.”