JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's downright thievery on the football field and Jacksonville University fans and coaches hope to see a lot more of it.
The Dolphins defense is on the cusp of breaking the single-season record for interceptions after recording 16 through the first seven games of the season and it's not one guy stealing the show. The run started with freshman Brandon Roe recording interceptions in his first three collegiate games and now continues with rover Dallas Jackson having knocked off four total, three in the last two games.
Nine different Dolphins have had a piece of the action. All shapes and sizes. Freshmen, seniors, defensive backs, linebackers and defensive linemen all have contributed and there are a variety of reasons put forth as to why Jacksonville has propelled itself to the top of the national Football Championship Series rankings in interceptions (tied with North Carolina A&T).
"Right now its their preparation from week to week,'' secondary coach Jake Grande said. "These guys are on top of their film study, they want to be good. They get on each other in practice trying to make each other better and I think it's really shown each week.''
Grande said the looming record is nice, but his part of the defense is looking at a bigger picture.
"Records are good but what they want is a (Pioneer Football League) championship,'' he said. "They're team-first type guys and they're going to do what it takes to help the team win. That's what we as coaches really like.''
The leader of the pick pack is Jackson (Palmetto, Fla.) and his four interceptions. Roe has three, Armani Sampson and Mike Klein two each and Grady Redding, DJ Howard, Jordan Dewhirst, Schon Thomas and Jareeq Crenshaw one each.
"We work hard on the field; we watch film and break it down and usually know what our opponent is going to run before they do it,'' Jackson said. "Our secondary has great ball skills, that plays a part and our front seven is special. We're just a ball hawking secondary that likes to get picks.''
One of Jackson's picks was impressive, a one-handed grab he didn't realize he had caught, even to the hard-to-impress Grande.
"That one-handed snatch (against Morehead State) was one of the best plays I've seen from anyone at Jacksonville,'' Grande, in his fifth year, said. "But, we joke around that he dropped one and tossed it to (corner back) Armani (Sampson) in that same game. That's the mentality they have. They're going to try to go out there and make plays but they're still humble and realize the next play you've got to work hard to get that play.''
Safety Terrance Bryant (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.), like Grande, is quick to praise the defensive line and linebackers for their efforts in the record run.
"The defensive line has gotten some picks, the linebackers; the pressure when it gets to the quarterback makes him throw a bad pass and the defense reacts on it,'' he said. "The secondary has been in the right place at the right time and we've lowered the number of big plays.''
Redshirt sophomore Sampson (Brandon, Fla.), has two interceptions and says trust is a big factor.
"We trust each other and we believe each other is going to be there,'' Sampson said. "It's team defense, not at its finest because we've got a lot of stuff we can correct and get better at, but it's definitely team defense. We need that front seven just like they need the back end.''
One of the front seven who has been in on two interceptions, linebacker Klein, calls every interception from the front seven a blessing.
"We preach to swarm to the ball, so, when people try to make plays on us there are a lot of people around the ball a lot of our interceptions are tipped passes the second guy catches where we get two or three guys get their hands on the ball,'' he said. "We just have a lot of guys who fly around and I think that's why we make so many plays.''
Klein notes that much of the success has come from making opponents one dimensional.
"The front seven has got to stop the run, shut them down and make them one dimensional and make them throw,'' Klein, a redshirt senior from Edgewater, Fla,. said. "Once you do that we can have a little fun in the front seven. We put some heat on the quarterback and if you can do that … getting a guy in a quarterback's face will make a great quarterback look terrible. We can make anybody look bad.''
He gets downright giddy when talking about linebackers picking off a pass.
"It's like a dream come true when that thing lands in your hands,'' he said. "Next thing you're thinking is 'end zone, end zone, end zone'. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get much more than three or four steps on my interceptions but end zone was definitely on my mind and I'm sure that's what everyone else thinks when they get the ball. We don't get to touch the ball much so when we finally do it's a blessing.''
- Jim Nasella