Carson-Newman Football Position Previews: The Defensive Backfield

VIDEO: Larry Slade Interview

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – This is the second part in an eight-part series chronicling each of Carson-Newman football's positions. Defensive coordinator Larry Slade details the Eagles' secondary for this report.

Carson-Newman's secondary has the luxury of returning a whopping 87 career starts among its members. All-SAC selections Desmond Fairell, 2017 All-American Darius Williams and Ja'Quan Smith account for 81 of those starts. Fairell has started all 33 games in his Carson-Newman career since arriving on campus in 2016.

"It's outstanding to have veterans in the secondary," Slade said. "When you have veteran DBs, you give up very few big plays. That's what this group brings. When you have guys who have started that much, it really helps your confidence in your defenses ability to stop big plays."

Ray Artybridge (four career starts) and Zach Talley (two career starts) round out a talented group with plenty of experience. 

Fairell will be chasing his way through Carson-Newman's record books this upcoming season.  His 12 interceptions rank sixth in the history of the Carson-Newman football program.  If he replicates his pick production from his first three seasons, Fairell would finish his career with 16 picks, placing him in fourth place all-time.  He also ranks 14th all-time in career passes defensed. 

"Desmond has totally bought into what we do," Slade said. "He's an outstanding athlete.  He's put that experience and athleticism together."

Fairell has been a remarkable modicum of consistency for the Eagles. The corner finished the year with four interceptions for a third straight season to lead Carson-Newman and the South Atlantic Conference. Fairell turned in a multi-interception performance against Virginia-Lynchburg, the second multi-pick day of his career.  He also recovered two fumbles on the year to lead the South Atlantic Conference in takeaways. He earned TSWA State Defensive Player of the Week honors following his performance against Virginia-Lynchburg. 

Williams is a year removed from an All-America campaign in his sophomore year. Williams ran his consecutive starts streak to 22 straight games, getting the nod in all 11 games of his junior year. He ranked third on the team in tackles with 55, including three for loss.  He returned his lone pick of the year 56 yards in front of a national audience on ESPN 3 against Wingate. Williams also broke up four passes.  Williams tallied a career-best 13 tackles in week two at Virginia Union (9/8).  He tallied the most tackles by a defensive back since Jerry Miclisse in 2015. 

Finally, among the regular starters, Smith appeared in 10 games with nine starts for Carson-Newman as a safety.  Smith was sixth on the team in tackles.  He registered 42 stops on the year a pick and three pass breakups.  He made 25 solo stops, the fifth most on the team.  He had the second most tackles in his career in the season-opener at West Florida when he made nine stops, seven of which were solo tackles. 

"The thing that typifies Darius and Ja'Quan is their football intellect and their toughness," Slade said. "Ja'Quan is one those guys that you think someone has beat him out of his starting role. Then there he is again.  You can't out work him, you can't outstudy him."

Damarkus Jones has been pushing Williams and Smith for one of the safety spots. A transfer from Merced where he earned Academic All-America honors, Jones will have two years of eligibility remaining.  In high school, Jones earned first team all-state honors at Tarpon Springs.  He led defensive backs in tackles.  Jones tallied 70 tackles, two forced fumbles, a pick and three pass breakups in just seven games.

"Damarkus Jones came in from Merced and had an outstanding spring," Slade said. "He left the spring as a starter.  You don't have to tell him anything.  He just goes and makes football plays."

Carson-Newman will need to replace one starter in the secondary after Mario Mezier wrapped up his Carson-Newman career with 22 consecutive starts and a pick six in his final game as an Eagle. 

Ray Artybridge and Iowa Wesleyan transfer Jamarion McDonald are the top candidates for that spot. 

"We're going to miss Mario," Slade said. "However, Jamarion McDonald transferred in and had a fantastic spring.  Ray Artybridge was outstanding in the month of July. There will be outstanding competition between those guys for that starting spot along with incoming freshman Jalen Anderson."

Carson-Newman's top Nickelback last year, Artybridge appeared in all 11 games for Carson-Newman in the defensive backfield.  Artybridge registered 20 tackles with a pair of picks.  He also had two tackles for loss.  He collected his picks in weeks two and four at Virginia Union (9/8) and Newberry (9/22). Reset his career high for tackles with a seven-stop performance against Virginia-Lynchburg (10/20).  He also had a tackle for loss against the Dragons. 

McDonald produced 50 tackles for Iowa Western with three picks and 14 pass breakups.  McDonald all-conference honors for Manatee High School.  He helped the Hurricanes to back-to-back conference titles and an appearance in the state semifinals.

Anderson helped Mauldin High School to its first playoff win in 10 years as a senior.  He was named all-region for the Mavericks and led the team in pass breakups as a senior.  He participated in the Shrine Bowl.  Anderson also ran track, earning all-region honors in that sport as well. 

Carson-Newman's position previews continue Monday with a glimpse at the running backs with assistance from associate head coach Mike Clowney.