With four players returning who started a year ago, the ‘Jackets’ secondary figures to be an area of strength in 2012.
Leading the way is Derek Nash, who was a first-team All-Ozark Conference performer a year ago. A 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior, Nash is among the top cover corners the ‘Jackets have had in recent years according to Lebanon head coach Will Christian.
“He doesn’t pass the eye test neccisarrily, but he plays like he is 6-foot-2,” Christian said. “He is a very physical player and is very good at positioning his hands on the receiver so that it’s not pass interference — but is deflecting passes.
“I think he is as good a corner as we’ve had since I’ve been here ... the kid can play.”
Christian said Nash has also matured as a person. He intends to join the Army after high school and also works at Walmart.
“I am really proud of Derek as he has come a long way in the development of himself in the classroom and as a person,” Christian said. “He has really matured into a leader and a kid that is working really hard.
“He works a job about 40 hours and still never misses anything in football. He is a good hard-nosed kid and he is one of those kids that we are going to be excited that he is serving our country, for sure.”
Nash starts alongside Michael Culp, who started six games a year ago and had recorded six interceptions before missing the remainder of the season.
Culp (6-1, 190) is an athletic ballhawk who also doubles at receiver on offense.
Christian said Culp is as good an all-around athlete as the ‘Jackets have, and is also physical in the run game.
“Both our corners are physical and are willing to take on the run,” Christian said. “When you look at our nine-game regular season schedule, you see a lot of teams that are run teams, a lot of them run the option, and it is important that you have physical corners to defend that.”
At safety, the ‘Jackets are returning juniors Dylan Bradshaw and Austin Knight.
Bradshaw (6-1, 175) started every game last season as a sophomore, finished fifth in total tackles with 66 and recorded two interceptions.
“Anytime you are playing sophomores anywhere there is a major development process,” Christian said. “But he was ahead of that curve and played really well at times.
“Our expectations are really high for him to step up and be a good safety.”
Knight (6-1, 165) is a long, athletic player who will be a full time starter at safety for the first time this season after recording 40 tackles last season.
“We call him slithery,” Christian said. “He is always around the ball and is a heady football player.”
Junior Josh Archer (6-0, 170) is the ‘Jackets’ primary back-up in the secondary.
“We rep him anywhere in the secondary,” Christian said.
Senior Isaac Gillen (6-1, 165), who is out for the first time, is also in the mix as a reserve. Gillen is out for the team for the first time.
“He is a great kid who is extremmely intelligent,” Christian said. “I wish he was a kid who had played longer.”
Christian likened Gillen to seniors who were out for the team for the first time a year ago, Caleb Pitts and Ryan Oursbourn.
“They are really smart and naturally athletic and just a little behind in understanding the techniques of the game, but pick things up really quickly,” Christian said.
Senior Jeffrey Plake (6-0, 150) who will fill a role as a reserve cover corner.