Jaguars hope new faces provide help in defensive backfield

Late in the fourth quarter of last season’s Bayou Classic, the Southern University football team had two chances to ice the game and secure the win.

Grambling was threatening in the red zone with just more than two minutes remaining. Having already racked up more than 300 yards through the air, the Tigers opted to pass the ball on both first and second down.

Southern had a chance to snag both balls out of the air and all but end the contest. Instead, the Jaguars committed pass interference and gave up a touchdown, allowing to the Tigers to pull within five and eventually face a game-winning drive.

Luckily for Southern, the Jaguars held on to secure the 38-33 win the Bayou Classic, but the incident was just one example of a season full of headaches in the secondary for Jaguars coach Dawson Odums.

“If you watch the Grambling game from last year, we had a chance to end the game — we dropped two picks, and they end up scoring seven,” Odums said. “So we were looking for playmakers. We’re looking for guys that will hit people back there, and we’re looking for attitude. We think we got that.”

Odums was referring to the two new January additions Southern brought into the secondary this spring — Dionte McDuffy and Blake Monroe.

The two defensive backs have contrasting back stories, but have both found their way to Baton Rouge this semester and may be the answer Odums is looking for.

McDuffy, a Shreveport native originally, joins the Jaguars after three semesters at South Alabama University. The former Evangel Christian standout, who earned All-State honors in 2010 while leading the Eagles to their second straight state title, wanted to move closer to home to rejoin his parents and 3-year-old son, as well as reunite with former high school teammate Virgil Williams at Southern.

“I was always homesick and I had a son back at home, so I was always talking with my mom about the decision,” said McDuffy, who added that playing time weighed in his decision. “That was another factor because I didn’t play much at South Alabama. I wanted to come somewhere where I can play.”

By the looks of it so far this spring, McDuffy will have plenty of opportunities to crack the starting lineup, as the Jaguars graduated seven defensive backs who combined for 21 starts last year.

The 2012 group finished eighth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in pass defense, giving up 229.3 yards per game through the air, including 18 touchdowns while chalking up just nine interceptions.

Monroe is hoping he can help improve those numbers next season, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

“I like to consider myself multi-dimensional,” Monroe said. “I definitely feel as if I can contribute to the team and (am willing) in any form or facet, whether that be special teams, nickel packages, or at the safety position as well. Every day I just try to strive to get better and try to move up and give the older guys some competition. Wherever I can play, that’s where I want to play.”

A native of Waldorf, Md., Monroe spent the past four months at Jireh Prep in North Carolina analyzing his offer sheet and potential destinations before an unexpected phone call lured him down South.

“I spoke to (SU secondary) coach (Marty) Biagi, and he told me about Southern, and I liked what I heard,” said Monroe, who had only ever watched the Jaguars on TV before that day. “I always thought the atmosphere looked crazy. Once I got that phone call, it was real eye-opening. From that day on, that’s where I wanted to be.”

Monroe arrived in January and, according to Odums, has slowly worked his way up the depth chart during spring camp. The 18-year-old freshman described the defense as “outstanding” from what he’s seen so far, and he also spoke highly of the team camaraderie throughout the first weeks of practice.

With more than five months until Game 1, Odums wasn’t quite ready to peg either prospect as the starter just yet, but the first-year head coach knows the kind of talent he’s getting with his two newcomers.

“They’re definitely two guys that will hit you,” Odums said. “They’re small-stature guys, but they’ll put it on you. They’re learning what we’re doing, they’re very intelligent football players. They’re the kind of guys that possess the kind of discipline and accountability that we preach. I have no problem with those guys playing in the secondary for us.”

Both players expressed their desire to break into the starting lineup, but both were also quick to put team goals ahead of their individual accomplishments.

And neither was shy about where they want to be by the end of their first season as Southern.

“I tell guys every day that this is the year,” McDuffy said. “Just by being here this long, I can tell that this is the year. We can win the SWAC.”