The North Greenville defense will be the definition of experience this season as the unit commonly referred to as "The Black Swarm" looks to anchor an NCAA playoff run for only the second time in school history. The Crusaders allowed 399 yards a game last season, facing some of the best offenses in Division II football.
The Crusader defense surrendered 248.9 yards per game on the ground (a number largely inflated after playing three of the most prolific rushing offenses in the country last season), but just 150 yards a game through the air. The Swarm bowed its back when necessary though holding opponents to 46% on third down conversions as well as on fourth down conversion attempts. The most important stat was also in NGU's favor as the North Greenville defense allowed 307 points on the season while the NGU offense outscored opponents by 81.
The 2015 version of the "Black Swarm" returns 11 starters, including the team's three leading tacklers, as well as three players with at least three interceptions in the defensive backfield. The Crusaders also have plenty of experience in backup roles, leaving the NGU defense with the necessary depth to make a run at the post season.
Shaquan Burney, Caleb Adkins, and Anthony Blair make up a defensive front that returns three starters from a season ago. Adkins was the leader of the pack in the tackle column for the line with 47 total stops including 15 solos from his nose tackle spot. Right behind Adkins on the two-deep is transfer, Martez Abrams, who could quickly make a name for himself in Tigerville.
Anthony Blair was the sack specialist for the Crusaders with 7.5 quarterback takedowns in 2014. Blair also recovered a fumble and forced one. In all, the junior had 44 total tackles, nine of which were for negative yardage, which also was a team high. Add to the mix defensive end Shaquan Burney who had two sacks of his own last season, and the NGU front could be a difficult task for opposing coordinators to game plan for. Burney had 28 total tackles last season and four quarterback hurries.
The NGU linebacking corps is one of the most experienced units on the field for the Crusaders this season with four upperclassmen leading the way. This unit claims the three leading tacklers on the team combining to make 361 total stops last season, led by junior Quan Weeks form his weak-side spot. Weeks led NGU with 128 tackles, 51 of which were solo.
Combine Week's numbers and experience with that of Mike linebacker Sam Houston and Darius Custard at Bandit and NGU's second line of defense has the makings of an All-American squad. Houston brings two years of experience to the NGU defense, after making his career start in 2013 against none other than Charleston Southern (NGU's opening game opponent). Houston put up solid numbers in '14, racking up 123 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss, even after having his season cut short by an injury. Custard will also play an important, and versatile role on the NGU defense. The senior was sixth on the team a year ago with 56 tackles. As the Bandit, Custard will play standing up, but will also put his hand in the dirt and play some defensive end.
Rounding out the linebacking corps is senior Taylor Anderson. The fifth year senior will also be a versatile player for the Crusaders at the Spur. Last season the, the linebacker/defensive back hybrid was second on the team with 123 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Anderson played a key role in NGU's run defense, but he was also counted on as one of the team's best passing game defenders. He was fifth on the team with two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), with six pass break-ups and eight deflections.
NGU's "Legion of Doom" is also loaded with experience at both the cornerback and safety positions. The Crusaders had 18 interceptions last year, nine of which came from starters Rochar Witherspoon, Nigel Gay, and Tony Godbolt (All three returning starters). KJ McDonald also returns to sure up the defensive backfield, taking the reigns of the strong safety spot after suffering an injury midway through last season. McDonald also had an interception last season and was fourth on the team with four pass-breakups and five deflections.
Witherspoon and Gay have locked down the starting jobs at both cornerback spots. Gay was NGU's version of Darrelle Revis, putting receivers on an island in one-on-one matchups. Along with his three interceptions, Gay produced 11 pass break-ups and 14 deflections both team highs. Gay was also one of NGUs top tacklers, finishing with 70 stops, two of which were for a loss. Witherspoon created a no-fly zone of his own last season for opposing quarterbacks. As a sophomore, he had 23 tackles, but led the backs in the tackle-for-loss category with three. He finished with three interceptions on the season with five break-ups and eight deflections.
McDonald and Godbolt will be NGU's last line of defense this season at the strong and free safety spots. Godbolt was fourth on the team last season with 81 tackles while also gathering three interceptions and seven break-ups. McDonald will look to build upon a 2014 season in which he had 29 total tackles, 2.5 of which were for a loss, in just seven games.
In all, "The Black Swarm" returns 10 upperclassmen to the starting lineup, a number that would make a majority of college football coaches jealous with the lone underclassmen being a sophomore.