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2019 Frontier Conference Football Preview Series: Defensive Backs

The last line of defense


August 13, 2019

Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Ostin Welch, left, covers Lights' wide receiver Bryce Bumgardner during Monday's fall camp practice in Havre. Welch is part of a Northern defensive backfield that will look to make big strides this season. For a look at the top special teams players in the Frontier, see Wednesday's Havre Daily News sports section.

The last line of defense in football is the secondary. That goes without saying. But, such an important piece of any college football team is also the hardest to recruit. In other words, good defensive backs don't just grow on trees.

And, when you get down to the NAIA level, they're even hard to find.

That's why this coming season in the Frontier Conference will be an interesting one, because, all but two of the league's defensive backs that were named All-Conference in 2018 graduated.

So that means, new faces in the secondary around the league will have to emerge if teams want to go from good to great defensively.

However, one of the players who earned All-Conference honors is back this season, and, he led the conference in interceptions. Eastern Oregon junior Zack Jacobs will be the anchor of what should be a strong secondary in LaGrande. Jacobs' record seven interceptions a year ago go along with 53 tackles from his safety position. Returning starting cornerback Eric Prom also gives EOU head coach Tim Camp's Mounties a very experienced secondary.

The Montana Tech Orediggers also return a very good safety/corner tandem. Demaree Morris earned All-Conference honors a season ago, while former Chester-Joplin-Inverness star Justin May has been an elite safety for the Diggers the past two seasons. May tallied 51 tackles last season, and is versatile, as he's known as a tough run stopper but, because of his speed and range, is also excellent in pass coverage.

In Billings, Rocky Mountain College's secondary was hit hard by graduation with the departures of three-time All-Conference safety Keenan Fagan and standout corner Kendall Jefferson. However, the cupboard isn't bare at RMC either, as head coach Chris Strutzreim expects big things for the trio of Ty Reynolds, Devonte Woods and Jimmy Henderson. Woods and Reynolds combined for 59 tackles a season ago, while Henderson had two picks.

However, perhaps no team in the league was crushed more by secondary graduates than Carroll College. New head coach Troy Purcell inherits a squad that lost all four starting defensive backs from the 2018 team, including All-American McBride Galt, Drew Melton and the speedy Parker Bernhardt. That means young players like Whitefish' Brian FauntLeRoy and sophomore Xavier Pace will need to step up this season. Southern Oregon also lost a slew of key defenders in the secondary and will look to new faces for the back end of its defense.

Montana Western should have a very stout defense this fall, and a key position will be the return of defensive back Jackson Thompson, while Tristen Alesia and Isiaih Abdul return for what should be a very strong College of Idaho defense.

Colin Thompson

Action for the second day of Lights' football camp Monday in Havre.

Meanwhile, in Havre, the Montana State University-Northern Lights have been young and green in the secondary for several years now, and by grade, the Lights will be again. Head coach Andrew Rolin said that the secondary is one of the areas to really watch during fall camp, though he's very high on sophomore safety Jeff Tinae, who had 28 tackles a year ago. The Lights do have experienced backs, as well, in the form of Devariej Criss, though they did lose promising cornerback Damien Nelson to the Montana State Bobcat track team.

"I think the defensive backfield will be fascinating to watch," Rolin said. "We have some guys back from last year, but we also brought in a lot of new faces. It will be fun to see who rises up and takes ownership of that group."

Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment of the Havre Daily News' annual series on the top players in the Frontier Conference. For a look at the top special teams player, see Wednesday's HDN.


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