Junior College was a pool of wealth for Middle Tennessee recruiting in 2014, as seven of the nine JUCO members managed to break into the two-deep rotation.
The linebackers were the most prominent and vital group for the class, as three of the front seven defenders entered the season and contributed from the very beginning.
“When you bring junior college guys in, you expect those guys to have a chance to compete for a starting role and make an immediate impact on the football team,” co-defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “I think all the young men that we brought in from the JUCO class a year ago made an impact. Cavellis Luckett, Trey Wafford, those two guys made the biggest impact, but Quay Watts had a role as well and that’s what we expected.”
Junior Trey Wafford enrolled at MTSU with no Division I experience under his belt, but managed to notch nine starts on the season, grabbing 53 tackles, two PBUs and three fumble recoveries. Despite his size at 5-feet 10-inches and 196 pounds, Wafford has solidified himself as a dominant presence on the outside.
“Trey took over the starting role the first game, that had to do with an injury, but most of it had to do with his knowledge, his instinct, his ability to make plays,” Nix said. “You see so many spread teams now that play with five defensive backs maybe six, and [Wafford] is that hybrid guy that can play the run well enough, but also play in pass coverage, so he uses his size to his advantage defensively because he can do multiple things.”
Cavellis Luckett’s junior college success translated to Conference-USA in his first season with the Blue Raiders. The junior earned three starts, and finished fifth on the team in tackles with 57, also adding three TFLs, two sacks and four PBUs. With Christian Henry’s graduation, Luckett should be the starter in the middle of the Middle Tennessee defense for 2015.
Coming on in the later part of the season, junior Quay Watt collected 36 tackles, a TFL and a PBU. He added quality depth on the outside, making numerous plays when his number was called.
“We expect Quay to be an impact player for us somewhere defensively,” Nix said. “Don’t be surprised if he shows up in the secondary because he’s that type of athlete and we’re looking to get our best 11 on the field.”
The Blue Raiders also brought in two junior college defensive backs that were able to touch the field early and often in 2014. While switching between corner and safety, Jordan Frost-Dixon was Kevin Byard’s backup for part of the year, but managed only to rack up six tackles on the year.
Cornerback Jamarcus Howard saw action in only eight games, picking up a mere four tackles. Howard was hampered with injury throughout the year, managing only four tackles on the year. Coach Nix, however, says the rising senior has plenty of potential, but needs to prove himself.
“Jamarcus Howard has the talent and potential to start,” Howard said in an exclusive interview with Sidelines. “Howard’s biggest things is that he needs to stay healthy and utilize every spring practice, every off season workout drill to help him when August comes around.”
While there are exceptions, it’s difficult for a true freshman to come in and make an impact right away. Coach Nix believes junior college players have a leg up on the competition from the very start.
“The biggest thing about these guys is that they all came in midyear,” said Nix on Monday. “The junior college players, they come in for the December signing day. They have a chance to make an impact.”
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