HAMMOND — Four games into his college career, Southeastern Louisiana’s Tyler Stoddard became a starter at free safety.

By year’s end, he was the team leader with 90 tackles, earning first-team all-freshman honors from College Sports Journal.

A year later, Stoddard’s production tapered off to 63 tackles — third on the team — not because of injuries or sophomore slump but because of a scheme change brought about by first-year coach Ron Roberts.

Stoddard estimated he averaged nearly 90 plays per game his freshman season, but with the arrival of Roberts came a big-picture approach for the program that called for building depth and more rotation among certain positions on the field.

“I learned to rotate in and out and not get as many snaps, but it made me a better team player,” Stoddard said. “It made me understand the more players we had to play consistently, the better we would be as a team. It was something I needed to learn.”

After ranking seventh last season, Stoddard, a two-time honorable-mention All-Southland Conference performer, has worked his way back to the top of No. 8 Southeastern’s tackle chart with 50 this year, including a team-high 32 unassisted stops.

That number brings a smile to the face of the 6-foot-2, 205-pound native of Westlake, but providing reinforcement from the back end of the Lions defense only provides a glimpse into his value to the league’s top unit in total defense.

“He’s made a lot of tackles and makes the calls in the secondary,” Roberts said. “But his best attribute is the passion he brings every day to play the game. He brings it to practice. There’s a mental toughness that catches on with other kids. He’s got a competitiveness about him you’re looking forward to in any kid.”

Stoddard has consistently been at or near the top in total tackles with linebacker Isiah Corbett, registering a pair of double-digit performances in a win over Southern Utah and following that two weeks later with a season-high 12 stops in a 24-23 loss at Southeast Missouri.

Stoddard is tied for 12th in the Southland at 7.1 tackles per game. He’s tied for ninth in passes defended and also has an interception.

“He really carries the defense and makes sure everything gets called,” linebacker Herbert Harris said. “He’s a lights-out player. He’s going to lay it on the line for you.”

Stoddard developed a propensity for being around the action at Westlake High, where he was a first-team Class 3A all-state selection after making 80 tackles as a senior.

At the time, SLU was losing two of the school’s leading tacklers — Mark Newbill (401) and Tommy Connors (355). Stoddard was signed to fill the team’s void at safety, and he immediately made an impact.

Stoddard registered five games of 10 tackles or more with a career high of 13 against both McNeese State and Sam Houston State, as well as 11 in wins over Texas State and Nicholls State.

“I’ve always had a nose for the ball,” Stoddard said. “You always want to be around the tackle even if you’re not the one making the play. If a guy misses, at least you’re there for reinforcement. When you’re around the ball, good things happen.”

With 117 tackles during his sophomore and junior seasons, Stoddard was rewarded for his reputation as a sure tackler and leader with an All-SLC second-team preseason nod. Stoddard has continued to climb the school’s career tackle list, moving into the top 10 with an eight-tackle effort in SLU’s 35-20 loss at Tulane in September. He’s currently eighth at 257 with a chance to reach 300 — like Newbill and Connors before him — and rank fifth all-time.

“It would be an honor to be able to do that,” Stoddard said. “Three years ago, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead, but I was recruited to fill some big shoes. I’m satisfied with where we are, but you can’t get complacent. I still want a lot of out my career and the program while I’m still here.”