Cary Fowler exudes confidence in everything he does. It's just the way he is.

That's why Fowler, head football coach at Tarleton State, says he's "in love" with his cornerbacks.

"They remind me of myself when I played," said Fowler, recalling his days at Murray State in Kentucky. "You're just so confident you don't know any better, because you know that whatever it takes, that's what you'll do. I didn't play corner, but those guys sure do. And you have to be confident like that if you're going to play corner."

Dashaun Phillips started at cornerback and returned punts for the Texans as a true freshman last year. The Duncanville native called his freshman season a "growing experience," saying that learning on the fly helped him to "mature as a player."

Phillips battled through an especially humbling moment at West Texas A&M last season when standout Stephen Burton beat him for a 99-yard touchdown reception that put the Buffaloes in control. They went on to beat the Texans 39-14.

"Coming in out of high school last year, I didn't really know any better," said Phillips. "I just thought I had the skills to stop anybody. I never really worried that much about technique.

"But I learned last year, you can't defend the receivers in this league if you don't use good technique," Phillips added. "I've been focusing on that a lot."

Phillips will have a new partner at corner during his sophomore season. Gaston Benson, a La Marque native who played junior college ball at Santa Rosa Junior College in California, turned down Division I-FCS members Murray State and Western Illinois to return to Texas, Fowler said.

"He could have gone Division I, but coming back to Texas meant more to him," Fowler said. "(Defensive coordinator Henry Cofer) did a great job recruiting him, and we moved him to corner the second he got here."

Benson says he's only played safety, but that doesn't matter to Fowler, who has been a defensive backs coach his whole career.

"He was a good safety, and I'm sure all his past coaches had their reasons for playing him there, but he's a natural born cornerback," Fowler said. "Usually I'm trying to create good corners, the one's who are naturals like Gaston are few and far between.

"I'm real fortunate because I've got two of them at the same time," the second-year head coach added. "Dashaun's a natural-born corner, too, he's just taking more time to develop. He has the skill to play pro football, he just has to keep working hard. We're going to get it out of him."

Phillips showed his potential last season, picking off three passes and breaking up five more. He's also the fourth-leading returning tackler after making 44 stops, and he forced a fumble. He returned 12 punts for 99 yards with a long of 21.

"Dashaun learned a lot by being thrown into the fire last year, and he also learned a lot from (then senior) Brandon Johnson," Fowler said. "Now he's showing those things on one side while Benson is showing them so naturally on the other."

He said Benson already shows instincts most corners take years to develop.

"He's so smart, he just picks things up so quick," Fowler said. "He understands leverage, he knows how to bait people, he's great. I haven't even got him into a game yet and I already think he's the best corner I've ever coached."

Benson and Phillips certainly share their coaches' confidence.

"We're out there to lock people down, and you have to believe you're going to do that," Phillips said.

"That's what they brought me here to do was to shut down receivers," Benson jumped in. "That's what we're planning on."

Phillips is especially anxious about the Sept. 1 opener against No. 4 Abilene Christian. He remembers all to well the 65-3 loss he and the Texans suffered in Abilene last year.

"We can't wait," Phillips said. "It's a great opportunity. We're doing so many things different, seeing them early should be in our favor. We know they're good, but we'll be ready."

Benson was not around for that loss, but says he needs no extra motivation.

"I don't care who it is," Benson said. "It doesn't matter to me who we're playing or if it's the first game or the last game. I know I have to bring it all the time."