Editor's Note: This is the seventh installment of an eight-part series produced by the FSU Athletics Communications Office looking at different position groups as the Bulldogs prepare for their 2009 season opener on Saturday, Aug. 29, against Tiffin at Top Taggart Field.
Big Rapids, Mich. - When any football team has
to replace six of its front seven starters
defensively, you hope at the very least to have a
veteran secondary to aid in the task.
The Ferris State University football team's defensive unit should have at least that much going for it as the Bulldogs embark on the 2009 campaign.
Despite losing six starters from the defensive line and linebacking roles in its 4-3 scheme, the Bulldogs believe they have a solid and veteran group of secondary players returning to build around.
Cornerback Angelo Williams (Jackson) returns to man one side and should rank as one of the league's top cover guys again this season after starting most of the past two seasons. One of the squad's fastest players, Williams started seven games last fall and finished with 29 tackles, six breakups, a sack and a forced fumble.
Senior C.J. Lee (Lockport, N.Y.) is back to control the free safety position for the third year and could potentially develop into one of the GLIAC's top performers at his position. He finished seventh on the team with 32 tackles last year and is a high-energy type of guy who hits and moves well.
The Bulldogs were expecting senior Chad Wilson (Howell) to be the club's defensive leader from his strong safety spot following a breakout junior season that saw him earn All-GLIAC Honorable Mention accolades in 2008. However, a preseason injury may have derailed those plans and his status remains in doubt.
If Wilson doesn't figure into the picture, the Bulldogs are still afforded the luxury of having another veteran return to fill the other safety spot in senior Santino "Sonny" Favot (South Lyon). A three-year letterwinner, Favot played in nine games and made five starts a year ago while totaling 21 tackles, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. The hard-hitting Favot is a physical tackler who has contributed significantly on special teams in the past and the Bulldogs hopefully won't miss a beat with him at the position.
At the other corner spot opposite Williams, sophomore Russell Weatherspoon (Detroit/Pershing) is the likely starter and the Bulldogs are hopeful he will fill in admirably for two-year starter and All-GLIAC Second Team pick Terrell Heggins. The 5-10 Weatherspoon is an athletic corner coming off a good spring and has the tools to be an impact player for the Bulldogs this season. He saw limited action as a special teams player in 2008 after redshirting during the 2007 season.
"Our returning experience on the defensive side lies with our secondary this season," FSU Defensive Coordinator Duane Wilson said. "We should be able to do some nice things with those guys returning on the back end and hopefully will be able to create more turnovers with the experience that returns."
Behind the group of veterans returning, the Bulldogs also have a number of young and talented secondary players who should help provide depth and challenge for playing time.
Redshirt freshman Cody Groulx (Montrose, Mich./Hill McCloy) took big strides in his first year and should be a quality reserve at one of the safety positions this season. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are also high on a pair of redshirt freshmen corners in Jamar Slade (Macomb, Mich./L'Anse Cruse North) and Jonathan Bryant (Detroit/Oak Park), who will provide depth and contend for starting roles. Another redshirt freshman, Stefan Scharnhorst (Romeo), may also figure into the mix after performing well during spring ball at safety.
Newcomer Antwian Windmon (Chicago/Morgan Park) was highly-recruited by the Bulldogs out of Chicago two years ago before spending his initial collegiate campaign at Kentucky State and may challenge to crack the lineup.
The large group of young secondary players also includes two other redshirt freshmen in local product Zachary Rosman (Stanwood/Morley-Stanwood) and Mike Davis (Troy) along with incoming recruits Brandon Bryant (Novi), Kris Baumgardner (Macomb/Northville), Jonathan Flynn (Traverse City/West), Devon German (Muskegon), Randy Lagow (Parma/Western), John Purdy (Traverse City/West), Dion Strong (Bolingbrook, Ill./Plainfield North) and Michael Smith (East Chicago, Ind./Central). A number of those players could move up the depth chart as the season progresses.
"Defensively, we added some top-level kids in some areas we needed to address as part of our recruiting class this year and we also signed some guys with great speed in the secondary who will help us down the road," said FSU head coach Jeff Pierce.
Next Installment: The "Countdown To Kickoff" series will conclude later Sunday (Aug. 23) with a look at the special teams units.