Tarleton ready to debut depth at DB against SFA
STEPHENVILLE — With an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several players on Tarleton's roster have taken advantage. In the defensive back group alone, two players are in their sixth season with the program. And of course, with added recruiting classes, there is a lot of competition between the experienced and the new. At DB, that's a blessing.
"We've got a lot of depth, more depth than we've ever had," Defensive Coordinator (CB) Marcus Patton said. "We're going to try this year to play more guys in the secondary just because we have so many guys who can play. There's not much of a drop-off. The only thing I'd say that's different between the top guys to bottom guys is really experience. Those top guys, some of those guys have probably played like 40, 50 games here. Some of those guys have a boatload of talent and I think they're going to be as good as some of these older guys we got here. We just got to get them out there, throw them out there and let them play."
Returning for their sixth seasons at DB are Tre Johnson and Devin Hafford, who were members of head coach Todd Whitten's first recruiting class in his return to Tarleton. Johnson has played in 45 games with the Texans, not missing a single contest since he redshirted as a freshman in 2016. That's 42 pass breakups and 178 total tackles from the secondary returning for yet another run in front of the fans in Stephenville.
"They expect a lot, they've always set the bar high," Johnson said. "I've set the bar high for myself. The sky's the limit, I just got to go out there and be me, do me, and hopefully get drafted this year."
Hafford has also played in 45 games with Tarleton, but his is across five years. He has six interceptions, 44 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and 193 tackles to his name. He played just one game in 2019, against Stephen F. Austin, where he got injured and missed the rest of the year. When asked at WAC Media Day what game on the schedule caught his eye the most, Hafford had an easy answer.
"Personally, probably the SFA game, the first game," Hafford said. "I got hurt in 2019 in the first quarter going against those guys, so just to redeem myself, play a full game and beat those guys again."
Senior Benjie Franklin also brings a lot of experience back to Tarleton, and a lot of talent, to say the least. In just eight games last season, Franklin did a bit of everything. In one game, he recovered a fumble and scored from 48 yards out, plus he blocked a PAT that he returned 98 yards for a two-point safety. He returned a blocked field goal attempt 68 yards for a touchdown. He was one of two Texans with an interception and a fumble recovery and one of three Texans with multiple turnovers.
"It's almost like you run out of things to coach them on, they just kind of go out there – they know how we practice, they know the routine," Patton said. "They're spending as much time coaching those young guys up as I am. So, it's making everything a lot easier as far as the transition, as far as building for the future."
Among the up-and-comers, Patton mentioned Donovan Banks and newcomer Jalen Carr. Banks made his first game appearances with Tarleton last season, and in his second game, he had two interceptions himself. He added 25 tackles and four pass breakups out of the secondary. Carr joins the team from Southwestern Oklahoma State, where he had 11 interceptions in two years.
"I think this is the deepest [group] I've probably had since I've been coaching here at Tarleton," Patton said. "From top to bottom, we're pretty deep."