The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

March 29, 2014

MSSU's new defensive coordinator plans on same aggressive style

Missouri Southern has a new defensive leader, but don’t expect the Lions’ aggressive style to change.

“We’re going to blitz everyone,” said Rashad Watson, who was promoted to defensive coordinator earlier this month. “If we can blitz the parents in the stands, we’re going to send them. We’re going to be unconventional and aggressive.”

The Lions are nearing the end of their second week of spring football practices, and Watson is rapidly gaining comfort in his new role.

“It’s definitely a lot different,” Watson said. “There’s a lot more responsibility. You have to deal with scheduling and the other coaches, and I have to make sure I’m doing what Coach (Daryl) Daye wants.”

Daye said the Lions’ players also have embraced Watson.

“They bought in to the change really fast,” Daye said. “He’s enthusiastic and doing a very good job. We have several new coaches, and they’re adapting well. Everything has been very impressive right now.”

Watson, who coached MSSU’s defensive backs the past two seasons, retains a solid group of veterans on his defense.

The Lions graduated all-MIAA linebacker Gatlin Ridgway, as well as strong safety Demon Haire, defensive back Elijah Swen and defensive lineman Paco Varol, but they do return several players who played significantly in 2013.

Linebacker Dalvin Taylor and defensive back Johnquavious McBride are back after earning all-MIAA honors in 2013, while defensive end Ryon Phillips received all-MIAA recognition as a sophomore in 2012. Missouri Southern’s returning leading tacklers are defensive back Gaige Washington (53), McBride (49) and Taylor (47). Taylor, Phillips and defensive linemen Eric Dago and Brennen Nora return after posting two sacks each last year.

“The older guys have been good,” Watson said. “Phillips and Dago have been good. The defensive line is going to be big for us as far stopping the run and the pass.”

The linebacker corps will miss Ridgway and his team-leading 80 tackles and 5.5 sacks, but the unit is athletic with the likes of Taylor (6-foot-1, 205), Molik Slade (6-3, 222), Auloa Tonga (6-3, 220) and Justin Tomlinson (6-0, 200).

The Lions, who finished 7-3 last year, allowed the second fewest yards in the MIAA at 326.0 per game. However, MSSU’s defense caused the MIAA’s second fewest turnovers with 12 — nine interceptions and three fumbles — in 2013.

“We really want to stress getting more turnovers this year,” Watson said.

Missouri Southern’s defensive depth should improve in the fall when several junior college transfers will join the team. Among them is defensive end Razean Prather (6-0, 240), a Northeast Mississippi Community College transfer who was named the defensive MVP of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges All-Star game.

Watson said he also feels good about the unit’s new position coaches.

The Lions added defensive line coach Aaron DeBerry, and secondary coaches Charles Alexander and Frank Wilson to the staff in the offseason.

“All three are good guys and great teachers,” Watson said. “That’s the best compliment I can give them. They’re all great students of the game.”

Missouri Southern is expected to practice in full pads at 9 a.m. today. The Lions’ spring game is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. April 12 at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.

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