With the exception of losing NFL Draft pick Nathan Shepherd on the defensive line and a couple other key pieces, the cupboard remains pretty stocked for the Fort Hays State defense.
Jose Delgado and Kolt Trachsel return at linebacker while the secondary returns bandits Doyin Jibowu and Tanner Hoekman, free safety Connor Shedeed and cornerback Aquil Knowles.
“Honestly, last year the D-line was our strength and we were kind of falling behind them and just following suit,” Shedeed said of the secondary. “This year I hope for the back end to be out in front and be the strength of this defense.”
Jibowu, who had a team-high five interceptions last year, also expects several other defensive players to make their names known by the end of the year.
“Everyone that’s new to the defense, I could see them having a breakout year,” Jibowu said. “That’s a credit to the coaching staff being able to bring guys in and having them fill the roles of the guys that left last year.”
Wyatt Parker is the lone returning starter on the defensive line after notching 58 tackles last year. Sheldon Schmidt, Sterling Swopes, and Kiel Simas are set to step into starting roles on the line after logging significant time last year.
“We were all on the same page and we were definitely clicking last year,” said Delgado, who led the team with 107 tackles as a junior. “We lost Shep, of course, but we have people that are going to fill that role. I don’t think we’ll be any weaker.”
Knowles will be joined at the other starting cornerback spot by redshirt freshman Keylon Kennedy, according to the Tigers’ depth chart.
On special teams, Dante Brown will add place-kicking to his duties in addition to punting.
The Tigers allowed just 15.2 points and 306.6 yards per game last year.
“The success of our defense is attributed to our coaching staff and just the mentality they bring day in and day out and what they expect from us,” Jibowu said. “I see us having a successful year again.”