Athletes in the secondary

AS THE WASHINGTON State Cougars head into the '04 season, they'll be replacing three-quarters of their starting secondary. Also of importance, they'll need to replace the leadership qualities those players brought to the table. But as defensive coordinator Robb Akey explains, the Cougs are in good hands.. on both counts.

The secondary in '04 will be led by Karl Paymah, as seniors Jason David, Erik Coleman and Virgil Williams all graduate.

Paymah is a guy who just might be ready to emerge as a shutdown corner. With him, its perhaps most about confidence. Because his physical skills are remarkable.

"Obviously, Karl Paymah, you would hope he'll be a special guy," coach Robb Akey said. "Two years ago, he did a tremendous job for JD when necessary and then he handled that position throughout the course of this season very well."

"He got consistently better throughout this season–that's what I was most excited about. I really think he'll be a better player next year because I think a lot of it is confidence and the mental factors. He's got the physical tools like a son-of-a-gun – good size, really good speed and a real good cover guy."

"Now being through a season of it, and a big season at that, and being the one that people were throwing the ball at because they were trying to avoid JD's interception, you know he's (really) been tested.. So we expect a real good year from him."

At safety, two seniors are ready to step to the fore in replacing Coleman and Williams. And its not as if they've been biding their time; they've been gaining valuable experience they'll use to their advantage–and not just from last season either.

"The two safeties, you would anticipate Hamza Abdullah and Jeremy Bohannon being those guys," said Akey.

"The thing I'm really excited about with those two—in the Rose Bowl season they were our nickel and dime, and played throughout the course of the season. This past season they not only played nickel and dime, we also had great confidence rolling them in to rest Virgil and Erik."

"We've got confidence in them. There's already two years of game experience there."

"While they're technically new starters, they've been in some big games. I'm excited about what they're going to bring to the table."

And here is something very good to hear—Abdullah is not just ready to step up on the field. He's already, in February, stepping up as a leader.

"Hamza is already starting to do a great job as a leader in the weight workouts, some of those things in the offseason," Akey said. "So that's a REAL good thing to see from him."

As coach Akey further explains, a golden opportunity exists for many of the defensive backs—both at safety and at corner.

"We'll be looking at what our depth is at safety in Spring Ball and Fall camp, and also who's going to hold down that other corner position," said Akey. "That's a huge opportunity for somebody and certainly a huge need for us – especially if we want to continue to pressure people (up front) the way we've been able to."

"So you look at Alex Teems and Don Turner as two guys that got some good playing time off and on during the course of the season and I think we'll challenge both of them to take a run at making that position their own."

(There has been speculation Teems might move to safety but Akey said that wouldn't be the case, Teems will compete for the open corner spot.)

And opportunity extends to other players as well, such as Omowale Dada.

"Wally Dada is another guy that did some good things for us on special teams—and its an opportunity for him to break into the lineup," Akey said.

"Then there's Tyron Brackenridge, the junior college corner we're bringing in (who had sent in his LOI just a few hours before we spoke with coach Akey) to compete for that spot. So we've got some guys to fight it out there and I think we'll be able to get that position handled."

"With those guys and the guys that will be competing for depth at safety, we'll come up with our nickel and dime."

There are also two other players generating quite a buzz in and around Pullman. Both performed exceedingly well on the scout team last year and have huge upsides.

"And I haven't mentioned the two kids we redshirted, Husain Abdullah and Christian Bass," Akey said. "Christian will be at safety competing this Spring and Husain will be a guy competing for that corner spot."

"I'm very excited about what the future holds for them, I think we've got two REAL good youngsters right there."

Coming Monday, coach Akey talks d-line for '04

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