When the Southern football team takes the short drive north to face Louisiana Tech for its season opener Sept. 5 in Ruston, one key player from last year’s secondary won’t be there.
Bryan Anderson, a sophomore free safety from New Orleans and a returning starter, was deemed academically ineligible for before the start of the Jaguars’ preseason camp.
Anderson is expected to take a redshirt this season and will be allowed to practice with the team.
Anderson appeared in all 13 of Southern’s games last season. He made 54 tackles, which was tied for fourth on the team. He also had four tackles for loss, two interceptions, five pass breakups, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
“You hate that for (Anderson),” coach Dawson Odums said. “You don’t want that. But what can you do? The next guy has got to get ready.”
The next guy is Blake Monroe, a junior from Clinton, Maryland, who has experience at strong safety and nickel corner.
Monroe has started nine games in his two seasons. He said his new free safety position is better tailored for his abilities.
“I like free safety more, because it has more opportunities for me to fly around and make plays.” Monroe said. “I can check the shifty receivers in the slot and tight ends. Playing in space is best for my talents.”
Monroe said he tries to model his game after notable NFL safeties like Earl Thomas, Ed Reed and former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu.
His coach certainly sees a resemblance.
“He’ll strike you,” Odums said of Monroe. “He plays bigger than what he is (5-foot-8, 175 pounds). He has a small stature but he’s versatile and has a good football IQ.”
Playing opposite Anderson and now Monroe is fifth-year senior Dionte McDuffy. Last season, McDuffy was the Jaguars’ second-leading tackler with 61 stops; he tied Anderson with two interceptions and five pass breakups.
“Bryan was a big part of the team.” McDuffy said. “But as coach Odums always tells us: When a man goes down, next man up. And I just want to be there for whoever the next guy is.”
McDuffy has played with Monroe for three years. Together, he says, they should have a smoother transition than if a younger player were asked to fill in for Anderson.
“We can help each other out on the field,” McDuffy said. “We’ve been in this same defense since my third year. If one (player) messes up, we can help each other and get the defense set.”
Southern’s new defensive backs coach, Steve Adams, will have to wait a year to see Anderson in a game, but he’s confident his unit can mitigate the effects of Anderson’s absence thanks to the players Southern has recruited.
“They’ve done a great job of recruiting skill players here,” Adams said. “When I got here in mid-April and started watching tape of the talent we had in the secondary, I was really excited.”
Adams specifically mentioned McDuffy, Monroe, senior nickelback Rhaheim Ledbetter and sophomore cornerback Danny Johnson as players that piqued his interest.
Even though Anderson will not be allowed to compete, his presence will still be felt. He’ll be able to practice.
After realizing he is ineligible, Anderson took to teaching Monroe the finer points of the free safety position, and it’s made the their relationship stronger.
“I still talk to him day in and day out,” Monroe said. “Bryan’s my guy. When he told me he wasn’t going to be playing this season, I told him: ‘I’m going to hold it down for you until we get you back next year.’ That’s my brother, and I’m stepping up in his place.”