Troy State Defense Starting To Hit Stride

The Troy State defense, which was the nation's fourth best in 2002, had many holes to fill to start 2003. They have lost all three starting linebackers and five of the top six defensive linemen. Not only that, but a new defensive coordinator, Vic Koenning (the former head coach at Wyoming, from 1999 through 2002), is trying to reshape the group that was 13th in rushing defense and 30th in scoring defense.

After giving up 41 at Kansas State and 48 at Minnesota, the defense has rebounded with only nine points given up at UAB and shutting out SLU in the 2003 home opener. The one returning starter on the defensive line is junior Demarcus Ware (6-4, 224), an All-Independent selection last season. He has had 86 tackles and 11 sacks over his first two seasons. He tallied three sacks against Southeast Louisiana. At the other end, senior Cedric Phillips (6-3, 245) who moved from tight end to defensive end midway through last season and won the starting job in spring. The defensive tackles are sophomore Torre Lankford (6-1, 276) and junior Eric Thomas (6-0, 289).

At linebacker, three new starters are on the field for the Trojans. At wide side of the field, or "Will," linebacker is the only starter who is still in the lineup after apparently becoming the starter in spring. Sophomore Bernard Davis (6-1, 215) is listed as the starter, although senior Neal Oates (6-0, 215) actually has more tackles off the bench after moving up from safety and tacked on nine this weekend. Also moving from safety to "Sam" linebacker is senior Ronald Harper (6-0, 210). His backup is red-shirt freshman Torrence Smith (6-0, 226). In the middle junior Robbie Farmer (6-1, 227) has moved to the starting job ahead of two sophomores, Leverne Johnson (6-0, 232) and Keith Staple (6-0, 222).

The secondary is the strength of the Trojan defense, with three starters back and six players returning with significant playing time including starting. Junior free safety Derrick Ansley (6-1, 171) is the leader of this group. Ansley was named among the "Top 30 Independent Players" regardless of position in 2002 and was second on the team in tackles with 82. The other returning starter is at the corner, where Adrian Ghent (5-10, 175) returns along with junior Freeman White (5-10, 167). White was scheduled to be the starter in 2002, but was lost with a knee injury in the preseason. The corners each had eight total tackles in the game with SLU.

Starting strong safety Rayshun Reed (5-10, 182) suffered a similar injury in 2002, blowing out his knee in game one against Nebraska. Sophomore Jermaine Miller (6-0, 165) started four games in 2002 at corner, while senior Arthur Adams (5-9, 212) and red-shirt freshman Brannon Condren (6-1, 191) back up the safety positions.

Special teams can be wrapped up easily by naming sophomre Thomas Olmstead (6-3, 218) who will punt, kickoff and kick for all placements. Olmstead was named to The Sporting News Freshman All-American Team when he averaged 39.9 yards per punt, hit 21-of-24 point after attempts and 11-of-15 on field goal. His long was 43 yards. Punt returns fall to strong safety Rayshun Reed, while kickoffs are backup tailback Jermaine Richardson and backup receiver Toris Rutledge. Reed had five punt returns for 62 yards verses SLU, including a 2003 long of 43 yards.

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