Last season the Virginia defense registered 12 interceptions.....nine of them from graduated seniors Chase Minnifield, Rodney McLeod and Cory Mosley.
Three key starters. Gone.
The lone returnee in the defensive backfield is true sophomore Tre Nicholson, who now finds himself as the leader of a young and inexperienced secondary.
"It's weird. It's a weird feeling, this being only my second year and those guys being first years," Nicholson explained. "They make me feel old and I've only been here one year myself so just having a little experience I feel like I'm here for these guys to have questions."
Even though he's an underclassmen himself, the playing time Nicholson saw as a starter last season, plus the guidance given to him by Minnifield, McLeod and Mosley, should be a good teaching tool for this season's group.
"Those are the type of guys you look up to and that's the type of guy I guess I'll try to be for the guys this year that's one year under me," Nicholson said.
"Right now is we have a lot of really good, young eager players that want to succeed, that have watched the guys in front of them succeed so that's got to be a difference," Virginia defensive coordinator Jim Reid added.
Reid and the Cavalier coaching staff have seen the talent on the field but what's impressed them even more, is the youngsters' ambition off the field.
"You know you sit in your office and as you're leaving, Tre Nicholson, Brandon Phelps, Drequan Hoskey, Anthony Harris, all these young characters came in and were watching film," Reid reminisced.
"I think talent-wise they have the skill and talent to do it. It's just what's missing is the experience of playing defensive back in a game. They'll get it early on and I'm sure that will be something we'll be paying close attention to," said Mike London.
Secondary players are often likened to being on an "island", but the young Wahoos are not alone. Cavalier defensive leaders like Steve Greer, Laroy Reynolds and Jake Snyder know that while the secondary was a strength last season, the inexperience this season means part of the responsibility falls on them to provide a good pass rush and take some of the pressure off the back half.
"It's extremely important," Snyder explained. "That's been a huge focus this summer. Our secondary is going to be good this year but they are inexperienced. So the focus now shifts more to the d-line and linebackers to get pressure on the quarterback and force more bad throws and try to help out our younger secondary."
They may have their growing pains along the way, but Nicholson sees bright things in the Cavalier secondary's future, starting sooner than later.
"We're all young so we're going to be together for a while. This year will be the start of great things to come."
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