CHARLESTON, S.C. - There's a lot to be excited about with a veteran group returning on the back line of the defense in 2018. Charleston Southern boasts four senior starters on the two-deep and the group will look to continue to make an impact this season as the defensive backs take center stage in today's fall camp preview.
Projected Starters (Based on Preseason Two-Deep): James Allen, Brandon Rowland, Shadarius Hopkins, Jonathan Slaton
Other Returners: Cameron Cain, Evan Cruz, JaRon Godbolt, Zach Hayden, Darin Smalls, Jarrod Stanley
Lost: Demetri Royer, Josh Bell, Terrell Powell, Sekwan Jenkins, Quan White
Additions/Newcomers: Damyjai Foster, Bryce Green, Theo Goodwin, Stephon Picket, Edward Price, Jr., Thaddeus Underwood
Things to Watch
Man Can Fly
One thing that cannot be said enough about Brandon Rowland is his ability to make plays all over the field. The redshirt senior safety made the most of his playing time last season finishing third on the team and 11th in the Big South with 64 tackles. Rowland rose to the occasion against the top opponents last season. The Irmo, S.C. native opened the season with eight tackles against Mississippi State. He followed up with five tackles, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble against Indiana. In his final performance of the season, Rowland posted six tackles and blocked an extra point in CSU's 20-19 win over Liberty in the series finale. Returning for his fifth and final season with the Bucs, Rowland's speed and big-play ability will be a key asset to CSU's defensive efforts in 2018.
Transitioning to Safety
Rowland welcomes a veteran counterpart to the defensive backline this season as Shadarius Hopkins makes the transition to safety after three seasons of standout cornerback play with the Bucs. The Winnsboro, S.C. native has made his name in passing situations after sitting among the Big South and national leaders in each of the last two seasons in passes defended. He also started all 11 games last season and finished second in the lead with 14 pass breakups. He also shined in big games with a career-high 11 tackles against Mississippi State, while posting seven stops and a forced fumble at Indiana. He posted arguably the best game of his career in the season finale against Liberty with an interception, five pass breakups, and three tackles against the Flames. Hopkins has impressed the coaching staff with his approach to the game and looks to make a similar impact from the safety position this season.
Talented Cover Men
Hopkins transition to safety opens up a cornerback position for the Bucs, but CSU has two seniors ready to step up and offer the same amount of production on the outside. Jonathan Slaton returns after starting all 11 games outside across from Hopkins, while James Allen looks to step up after providing key plays in the slot, as well as on special teams. Slaton posted 20 tackles and a pair of pass breakups on the year, as well as a blocked field goal in the win over Point. Allen added three tackles and a pass breakup at Mississippi State in the opener. The Bucs will be counting on the duo when teams drop back to throw the ball this season.
1 – Charleston Southern's defense ranked tops in the Big South in opponent first downs allowing 17.5 per game. Key to this was the defensive backs' prowess with three players ranking among the conference's best in tackles per game in their position group with Demetri Royer (8.6, 2nd), Brandon Rowland (5.8, 4th), and Shadarius Hopkins (4.7, 8th) all among the conference's leaders.
14 – Shadarius Hopkins had another standout season last year on his way to finishing the year with 14 passes defended. The rising senior safety needs just seven more pass breakups to surpass Malcolm Jackson (32, 2012-15) and become CSU's all-time leader in the category.
26 – The Bucs ranked among the FCS' best in passing defense for the fifth straight year as the Bucs allowed an average of 185.4 yards per game through the air – 26th in the nation in the category and second in the Big South.
CSU continues fall preseason camp this afternoon before preparing for CSU's annual Media Day at Buccaneer Field on Thursday afternoon.