There’s plenty of opportunities in the Temple football team’s defensive backfield heading into the season.
The Owls graduated several players – including draft pick Tavon Young – and return just junior Sean Chandler among last year’s starting corners and safeties.
Nate Hairston has as good a chance as anybody as a fifth-year senior – albeit just his second year on defense – to make an impact this season. He played all 13 games last year as a reserve defensive back.
“We’re all fighting,” said Hairston. "We’re all brothers but when we go out on the field we have to give our best. I guess you could say it’s my time, but not my time to show off. It’s my time to step into the role and be the player I can be and help the team win.”
Hairston was a wide receiver his first three seasons with the Owls – including a redshirt – and even collected a team-high seven catches in the 2014 season-opening victory at Vanderbilt.
“Having a year under my belt on defense has helped me a lot,” said Hairston. “I was playing nickel most of the year, but at the end of the year I was playing outside. Champ (Sean Chandler), Tavon, Artrell (Foster) taught me a lot and I put it all in play.
“At first I thought I was an offensive guy, but once I started playing more, I started liking it and I started making more plays once I understood more. After a while thought I am a defensive guy.”
Coach Matt Rhule said Hairston could be one of the best defensive backs not only on the team but in the American Athletic Conference if his confidence matches his abilities.
“He’s so talented, he can definitely do it,” said Rhule. “It’s a matter of bringing it all together. He’s returning kicks for us., but if Nate can put it all together he could be one of the best corners in the league.
“He just has to trust. Trust in technique, trust in his coachings, trust in yourself. If he does that, he’ll be very good. When he gets shook a little bit, he starts guessing. We need him to stop guessing.”
Hairston smiled when he heard Rhule’s assessment of his abilities and what could be holding him back.
“I feel like playing defensive back, you have to have confidence,” said Hairston. “You’re kind of on your own. When I play with confidence I’m a good player. When I don’t I’m not so good.
“You have to have that mental mindset … Come back, it’s a new play. I think football is 70 percent a mental game. At this level, most people can run, jump, do a lot. It’s the mental mindset that puts you over the top.”