Secondary a bright spot on defense

Unit has just one senior

August 14, 2008 · Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - When Alex Suber was first approached by Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill about the prospect of moving from tailback to defensive back in 2006 he was a bit skeptical.

After all, Suber was signed to play tailback at Middle Tennessee by the previous staff but his uncertainty about the move had nothing to do with a desire to play one position over the other.

"I was skeptical because I didn't know if I could do it," Suber admitted, following a recent preseason practice in which he had dominated the defensive backfield from his right corner position.

Stockstill, then in his first season as the Blue Raiders' head coach in 2006, never doubted the ability of the undersized Suber, who stands 5-foot-9. And, what's more, due to injuries and lack of depth at the position, he needed a versatile competitor to make a switch and he targeted Suber as a natural.

"Coach believed in me. The coaches talked with me and I also talked to my brother (Allen, who was a member of the Houston Texans at the time) and they encouraged me and told me I could do it," Suber said. "The coaches helped me a lot and I started getting better and realized I could do it."

Not only has Suber done it, but he also has done it as well as anyone in the Sun Belt. A preseason All-Sun Belt selection, Suber now anchors one of the strongest areas of the Blue Raider defense as he enters his junior campaign.

He was named honorable mention All-Sun Belt by the league's coaches and media after racking up 59 tackles, 7.5 for loss, an interception, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 2007.

"I wouldn't say I was surprised because I am a football player so I felt like I would compete," Suber said. "I think one of the things that made the biggest difference for me was becoming better at the physical aspect of the position."

Now the most experienced of the Blue Raiders in the defensive backfield, Suber not only has emerged as an outstanding cover corner, but he also has become a leader of young players and a difference-maker in the secondary.

"We have a lot of young guys playing who got a great deal of experience last year and that's going to help us this year," Suber said. "I think it's big they got thrown to the fire like they did because they gained experience. I really look to Rod Issac because he got thrown into the fire as a freshman last year and he's made great improvements."

Suber isn't the only person who realizes the talent and developing depth in a secondary Stockstill now calls "one of the brighter spots on the defense." "I have been very pleased with our secondary during camp," Stockstill said. "I think Suber and Issac have had an excellent camp so far. They are competing well, they are working, the effort is great and the attitude is phenomenal. The big thing is it is transferring throughout the defensive team. I have been very pleased with those guys."

Issac, a 5-11 sophomore from Miami, Fla., saw action in 11 games and started five as a freshman. He finished the year with 31 tackles, an interception, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He feels braced for a breakout season in his second go-around.

"The biggest thing for me was overcoming the doubters, the people telling me I was too small and as a freshman I needed to be sitting back and learning because I wasn't ready," Issac said. "My thought process all along was that I was going to play. I knew I had the athletic ability. I was just waiting to get my time to play and when I did I stepped in and I didn't care which class I was in, I was going to play and take care of my responsibilities."

That attitude has helped transform a still young and developing player into a confident athlete capable of making a big difference.

Senior Ted Riley, who transferred to Middle Tennessee from Eastern Arizona for his junior year, also has made strides and provides depth and competition at the corner positions.

"Riley is probably doing better now than at any time since he's been here so I'm pleased with his progress," Stockstill said.

Marcus Udell, a junior who arrived on campus last week, also has demonstrated his overall athleticism during his time in camp. The bottom line is competing and all of them are doing that every play, every day.

"The big thing for a corner is you have to have a positive attitude," Stockstill said. "I think the corner position is one where you need to have a chip on your shoulder maybe more than any other position on the field because you are out there by yourself. It's an attitude, toughness, a competitive nature. You have to have that nature and those types of intangibles. You may not be the fastest or the biggest, Riley is not the fastest, Suber is not the biggest, but if you come out there with an attitude and toughness and you are going to compete every snap then you have a chance to be successful every play. That's what those guys are doing."

Aside from senior Anthony Glover, the safety position also is one where Middle Tennessee is young, but talented. Jeremy Kellem played in all 12 games and earned five starts as a freshman, Kevin Brown played in nine games and hauled in an interception as a freshman, and Glover played in all 12 games, earning five starts in 2007. The trio has been solid during preseason camp, giving Stockstill a great deal of assurance any of them can get the job done.

"Glover has been solid through camp, Kevin Brown has become better and Kellem is solid back there," Stockstill said. "They are all having a good camp because they are coming out with a good attitude and working hard to be good and to help this football team."

Additionally, Middle Tennessee has stockpiled young talent at the corner and safety positions based on the results of the preseason camp as Derrick Crumpton, Denzell Guerra, and Hakeem Johnson, as well as Udell, all have held their own and continue to make strides.

"The young guys are not shy and they are not turning down anything," Stockstill said. "They are competing. They don't always do the right thing but I like their moxie."

The Blue Raiders will open the 2008 season against Troy at Floyd Stadium, Aug. 28, at 6:30 p.m.

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