Photos by Joe Kerlin
The injury bug stung the Fighting Hawks football team last season so hard Defensive Coordinator Eric Schmidt had to resort to playing freshmen who were planning to redshirt. Now, with game experience under their belts, a young crew of defenders are hoping to add depth going into the 2018 season.
Cornerback Evan Holm’s sophomore season was scheduled as his breakout year. He was thrown into action as a freshman in 2016 and played all 12 games. After a season-ending injury sustained to fellow cornerback Deion Harris last summer, Holm’s role was due to expand in his second campaign.
Holm’s first start came in the Fighting Hawks’ season-opener against Utah. He collected a career-high eight tackles. Two games later, he suffered an injury against South Dakota. He came back a month later against Montana, but aggravated the injury and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
“I think one of the key things in our season a year ago was when he went down in the first series at South Dakota,” Schmidt said about the junior Holm this spring. “The biggest thing after that is the guys after him, they just had to play so many reps, so he’s really important.
One of the cornerbacks who replaced Holm in the secondary was true freshman Hayden Blubaugh. The Aurora, Colorado, native played 11 games and tallied the most pass breakups on the team with six.
“I don’t know if it was fair to him to play him as much as we did, but now he’s progressed farther along,” Schmidt said of Blubaugh. “You look at some of our guys who were redshirted last year, they’re not at the same point Hayden is right now.”
Holm and Harris were members of a list that included Cole Reyes and Donnell Rodgers as defenders who finished the season sidelined by injuries. That’s why depth was one of the points of emphasis this spring, especially for the defense.
“I don’t think you ever feel like your roster is to a point where you like it. We’ve made some strides at certain spots,” Schmidt said, using Blubaugh as an example. “I watch certain guys out here, they’re a lot better players, a lot more confident then they were in the fall which is to be expected. But I still think we, up the middle, we’d still like to get a few more bodies in there that we think can get to a point where they can help us.”
The Fighting Hawks expect starting and backup position battles to play out through the summer and fall camps. With experience returning at the cornerback position, it’s the rest of the defense Schmidt and the rest of the coaching staff will look to solidify before kickoff against Mississippi Valley State, August 30.