VIDEO: Antonio Goss Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the fourth part in an eight-part series chronicling each of Carson-Newman football's positions for 2018. This feature is highlights the Eagles' defensive back four with first-year assistant Antonio Goss.
This might sound like a broken record, but a position group with Carson-Newman's defense returns a lot, specifically everyone. That's the case for Carson-Newman's defensive backs.
The Eagles bring back the South Atlantic Conference's leaders in interceptions and two others who have a combined 32 starts between them. The former two are preseason All-American and first team All-SAC safety Darius Williams (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and first team All-SAC corner Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.). The latter two are Mario Mezier (Miami, Fla.) and Ja'Quan Smith (Greenville, Ala.).
"Their athleticism on the back end is tremendous," Goss said. "They can dissect plays well and move on the run. That's something that's very important for us and part of what makes them so good. Anytime those receivers shift or move, they make checks and calls and get us set up correctly."
Williams had five picks last year to lead the league, Fairell finished as his runner up with four. Fairell though has eight career picks and is four away from entering the top eight all-time in career interceptions at Carson-Newman.
Smith has started 21 of 22 games as he heads into his junior year as an Eagle. Mezier was an 11-game start as a Juco transfer last year.
"Desmond and Mario are very competitive," Goss said. "That's what they're helping us do. They know there's competition behind them, so they're striving to get better while helping those behind them along."
Darius Williams led the South Atlantic Conference in interceptions with five in his sophomore season and helped Carson-Newman finish the year with the most picks in the South Atlantic Conference with 14. Williams tallied a pick in three straight games from Sept. 23 against Newberry to Oct. 7 against Limestone.
His top effort though came against Tusculum when he snared an INT and returned it 58 yards to the house for the Eagles' lone defensive touchdown of the season. Williams five interceptions are the most for Carson-Newman since All-American Eien Jacob snared that many in 2013. He was 19th nationally in interceptions.
Williams also finished the year with 48 tackles, the fourth most on Carson-Newman's team. He and the rest of the Eagles' secondary limited every receiver they faced under their season averages, with the exception of Mars Hill's Keshaun Taylor and Craig Rucker.
Meanwhile, Fairell was named the South Atlantic Conference's defensive player of the week following his performance against Limestone. Fairell earned the award following a seven-tackle performance in the Eagles' 31-20 win over Limestone that also featured a pair of forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Both turnovers that Fairell generated were crucial to preserving Carson-Newman's lead.
He grabbed his second interception of the season and the sixth pick of his career with 2:14 left in the third quarter and the Eagles up one. Fairell ripped in an Ivan Corbin pass at the C-N 10 and returned it deep into Saints territory. His fumble recovery was arguably the more impressive play and without question sealed the win for the Eagles. Jerko'ya Patton rushed for a first down for the Saints, but Fairell locked him up as he moved to the right sideline and ripped the ball away from him.
Fairell joins fellow first team All-SAC performer Sha'Heem Stupart as one of three players in the last decade with a fumble recovery, forced fumble and pick in one game. A lockdown corner, Fairell's seven tackles against the Saints were his most for the season. He didn't have more than three tackles any other game, a byproduct of teams' inability to throw the football to his side of the field. Fairell finished the year with 26 stops.
Mezier was sixth on the team as a junior with 47 tackles as one of Carson-Newman's two starting corners. Mezier also made 1.5 tackles for loss and had half a sack. He broke up seven passes and also picked off one pass. His lone interception came against Newberry. He had a career-high eight tackles, six solo in the Eagles' regular season finale against UNC Pembroke.
Finally, Smith made 20 solo tackles, the fourth most on the team last year. Smith topped out at seven tackles in the Eagles' win over nationally-ranked Catawba. he also intercepted a pass against the Indians.
"Ja'Quan has really stood out," Goss said. "He does exactly what's asked of him. He and Darius are such hard workers that are like freshman that feel like they're out there competing for a job."
While the starting four is stellar, the rest of the two-deep is pretty good too. Ray Artybridge (Iva, S.C.) has loads of experience and has played everywhere in the secondary through his first two years at Mossy Creek.
Zach Talley (Duncan, S.C.) returns from an ACL tear and Aaron Farley (Taylors, S.C.) add depth as well. Juco transfer Bernard Scott (Hollywood, Fla.) cracked the initial two-deep for the secondary as well.
Carson-Newman position previews continue Saturday with the Eagles wide receiver.