If you went to an LSU home game last season you probably heard the following words at least once: "Hookfin stinks. Why is he out there?"
Cornerback Demetrius Hookfin had to put up with a lot of criticism last season. Tiger fans often made him the scapegoat for the defensive backfield's problems. He was frequently a target of fans' wrath on radio call-in shows.
Hookfin never paid much attention to it though.
"It doesn't really bother me," Hookfin told Tiger Rag. "Defensive back is the hardest position out there. We have to go out there every game. And if people are going to criticize, you have to let that go in one ear and out the other. People don't understand the situation out there."
The senior from Kentwood has 20 career starts, including starting all 13 games last season. Though he did record 55 tackles and break up 12 passes, Hookfin struggled along with the rest of the defensive backs in the first half of the season. LSU's pass defense ranked tenth in the Southeastern Conference and gave up approximately 280 yards per game in the air.
Against Tennessee in September, receiver Kelley Washington scorched the Tigers for a then-SEC record 256 yards (LSU's Josh Reed broke that record against Alabama two months later). Florida's Rex Grossman set a Florida record by putting up 464 yards in the air against LSU.
But during the Tigers' magical run to the SEC Championship, Hookfin and the rest of the secondary noticeably improved. They still gave up yards but not as many big plays. They were also able to produce crucial turnovers when needed.
Hookfin's improvement was quite visible. He had an interception against Auburn on a fake punt attempt, and he recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship game.
The Tiger defense enters the 2002 season seemingly primed for a major turnaround. Nick Saban's defensive scheme often calls for the use of tight man-to-man coverage outside while the front seven disrupts the quarterback.
Last season the Tiger front seven failed to supply the needed pressure up front, which greatly hurt the defense by forcing the corners to cover receivers for inordinate amounts of time. This season, talent on the defensive line is expected to help put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If a better pass rush can be generated, it will help the secondary make more plays and keep them from having to cover receivers for so long.
Experience and depth are also assets amongst the defensive backs. The Tigers have three seniors starting (safeties Damien James and Norman Lejeune along with Hookfin) and a host of young and talented players behind them. The days of LSU's defensive backfield not being able to stop anybody may be over.
"They're going to do their job up front, and we're going to handle business in the secondary this year," says Hookfin.
Hookfin in particular is expecting to improve this season. He is hoping to build on the improvement he showed last year and develop into one of the best corners in the SEC. He definitely plans on silencing all those critics.
"I've worked hard and I really feel like I've really learned our defense. I always knew it, but now I feel like I really understand the basics of it," says Hookfin.
Some respect has already started to come for Hookfin, in the form of EA Sports NCAA Football 2003 video game. He is rated as one of the better cornerbacks on the game.
"I'm pretty high up on there. It's fun," he says.
"I feel good about (Demetrius). He had a really good spring," says LSU defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison. "During the spring the whole secondary really came together as a family. I guess you could use the word chemistry, but I use family.
"They all understand what is going on and they communicate. We improved throughout last season and we will continue to improve."
As fall practice continues before the 2002 season, there is an air of optimism and confidence among Hookfin and his brethren in the defensive backfield. They are looking forward to playing better and ranking amongst the best in the conference - maybe the nation. They know they struggled last year but plan on erasing that memory.
"People can expect toughness out of us this year," Hookfin said. "We've always tried to be physical, but we've gotten ourselves stronger and we want to show the receivers who's the boss. We're going to play harder. The defensive backs are not going to be the weak link of this team."