Sophomore Brandon Jones and junior Kris Boyd both have a lot in common. Both were highly touted defensive backs from East Texas who were asked to contribute a lot as true freshmen.
Now with more experience under their belts, both players enter 2017 as key players in Todd Orlando’s defense.
Jones received some playing time at safety last season, flashing at times while still being a part of a secondary that was beat deep on plenty occasions. Boyd started at corner the last eight games of the season, and recorded the game-winning interception in Lubbock against Texas Tech. Even though both had big roles last year, both know that some tweaks were necessary in how things were run in Austin.
For Jones, he’s already seen a difference.
“I think the biggest difference I’ve seen from last year and this year is the improvement with accountability and leadership roles, and also the brotherhood,” Jones said. “Now, in my opinion, we’re a lot closer than we were and it started with fall camp.”
Now entering his second season, the pace of the game has slowed down for the former five-star. Even though he comes in with lots of talent, there’s a more important “T” word in football; trust.
“What I learned is the biggest thing for coaches to put you on the field is they have to trust you,” Jones said.“Me being a younger guy, and I know for a lot of the younger guys the hardest thing is being able to adjust from high school to college. The speed and also the playbooks are a lot different and stuff like that. You really have to dig down deep and really have to study a lot, and you just have to go out and compete.”
Boyd himself had to earn trust this offseason. Last season, the defensive coaches opted to keep Boyd on the sideline closest to them in order to quickly relay the calls to Boyd, and to instruct him directly when they saw fit.
That won’t be happening this year, as Boyd said he’s lining up at both field and boundary corner and can successfully man either spot. “I’m just trying to be my best for the team,” Boyd said.
The coaches think very highly of Boyd, with his position coach Jason Washington on record as saying he believes he can become a lockdown corner.
That distinction demands a lot both physically and mentally. Boyd seems to have both.
“Coach Herman came up to me one practice because he could see I was letting stuff get to me,” Boyd said. “He’s like ‘it’s okay. A DB is going to get the ball caught on him once or twice.’ I’m just thinking in my head ‘no, not at all.’ You want to be the best? You’ve got to be the best.”
Boyd does not just demand this from himself, he wants it from teammates on the other side of the ball.
“Anybody I see drop a ball that should have been caught, I’m like ‘hey, even though I’m on defense, you’ve got to have that,’” Boyd said. “I know that’s going to be in the game when we need him to catch that ball.”
While Boyd’s reasoning behind why the secondary will be improved this year had to do more with the emotional side, Jones’ reasoning had more to do with the mental part of the game.
“I think we’re going to be a lot better just because we’re accountable for each other,” Jones said. “Also, communication is a big thing. We’re able to communicate and multitask. All the DBs know how to multi task. We can play any position on the defensive back side, so that really helps us overall.”
One of the players that both Boyd and Jones have taken under their wing is Nacogdoches freshman corner Josh Thompson. Being from the same hometown, Jones and Thompson have grown up playing the game together. Now, they get to share Texas football.
“This is really one of our dreams together,” Jones said. “Playing in Pop Warner, going to the same middle school and going to the same high school, we’ve always been together and we’ve always been there for each other. Him coming here was really exciting for me in just knowing that I have another family member to my side.”
Boyd had equally high praise.
“There are some areas he needs to work on but he’ll be great,” Boyd said. “I’m going to stay on him and do as much as I can to help him get better. I’ve got high expectations for him. I want him to be better than me.”
Overall, the defensive backs, like the rest of the team, remain confident heading into the season. Boyd, who is one of the more confident players on the roster, was not afraid to express that sentiment.
“We’re going to have it, and we can’t wait to show it,” Boyd said.“We feel it from the offseason work. Coach McKnight, the strength staff, they make us love to workout. We look forward to working out because it’s bettering us. We feel it.”