HANGIN' OUT WITH MALLORY: Part 2, defense and special teams

Tribune-Star file/Joseph C. Garza

Quick on his feet: Indiana State linebacker Geoffrey Brown follows the directions of defensive coordinator Brad Wilson (foreground) as he and his teammates work through a footwork drill in April at Memorial Stadium.

Part two of the Tribune-Star's visit to Indiana State coach Curt Mallory's office focuses on defense, special teams and overall goals for the Sycamores in the 2022 season. For part one, please see Tribstar.com or Wednesday's Tribune-Star.

TG: The defensive line has some guys who need to emerge. Kris Reid and Lucas Hunter have played, but quite a few new names up there.

CM: As you know, that's where we got hit the hardest due to graduation and we lost Henrik Barndt to Northwestern, that was the one guy that kind of caught us off-guard. Henrik had received his degree, had his sixth year, and made that decision. Kris Reid is the most experienced. He's battled injuries and missed the spring. He's at 100% and has had a good offseason. Casey Miller has played a little bit. He's 260 pounds now and looks great. Joey Shew had a really good spring.

Lucas Hunter has played a lot for us and had as good a spring as anybody. Kenny Butler has had as good a transition academically and athletically as anybody. Jake Hooper was here in the spring. He was a starter at Drake and now he's starting for us.

I'm really excited about these three. JuJu [Williams] played in four games at Middle Tennessee State and he's brought great maturity and leadership. Gianini Mann we recruited very hard in high school. He chose Southern Illinois and he's decided to come here now. He gives you that size and quickness you need up front. Trejuan Purdy was a starter at Valpo and comes to us as a grad transfer. He gives us some depth. Jack [Sherman] will come in and fight for us and the rest are young guys.

TG: At linebacker, Geoffrey Brown was the guy who emerged the most of anybody, really, on both sides of the ball last year. He kind of gave you that anchor linebacker whom we talked about last year [to replace Jonas Griffith] and he did that. In talking to him? He seems to have that leadership capacity past linebackers have had too. You can see the progression. Johnny [May] has also played a bit.

CM: Johnny and Geoffrey got some great experience last year and Geoffrey emerged. We expect him to have another great year. Johnny is a solid player in there. Where they've emerged is the leadership. Last year, they were trying to find their way. Now? They can help guys along. That's what you're seeing in the summer and in workouts.

Jarin Johnson played last year, but he's going into his third year. We'll see more of him. We were able to bring in two guys (Mallory pointed to Michael Lufile, a Monroe College transfer, and Garrett Oliendieck, an Iowa Central transfer) and they should compete.

We've got some good young guys. Dallas Westhoff and D.J. Griffith, Jonas's little brother. Wait till you see him. He's not quite as tall, but he talks and looks just like Jonas with the same work ethic.

TG: The secondary is interesting. There's some guys who have played and some guys who need to show they can play.

CM: I'll start with Johnathan [Edwards, cornerback] who has been the leader at the corners. He's really emerged and he has the chance to be as good as we've had. He's one of those guys who have played, but who have to take that next role.

We brought in two JUCO guys with great length, Payton Edwards and Bilhal Kone. I think they're going to be really good. Payton made some huge strides. Cornelius Doe hasn't played yet. This will be a big camp for him. Malik Chatman hasn't played. We have some guys who need to step it up to see what they can do.

I think (safety) Rylan Cole could be a great player. I'm really excited about him. Ethan Hoover has played and his knee is the best he's ever been. The rest of the (safeties)? The time has come.

TG: New specialists all around. Tell me about some of these guys.

CM: We had a guy in place to replace Wyatt (Harwood, ISU's previous long snapper), but he decided not to play. Next thing you know we're looking for a long snapper. We got a kid (Jayden Perry) who looks like a tight end. He's our long snapper.

Harry Traum is an Australian punter. We'll see when camp arrives. I was talking to him when he got here. He's been working with our long snapper.

They train these guys to rugby kick and you have to remember they don't have American football. So he's never caught a snap. I kind of fell out of my chair when he said he was glad the long snapper was here so he could practice catching a snap. You don't think about that.

Anthony Beacom and Brayden Johnson (both punters) have had good off-seasons.

Stephen Ruiz looks like a darn tight end. He transferred from Boston College. An unfortunate situation came up with [2021 kicker] Connor Tierney. He's no longer able to play, so suddenly, we're looking for a placekicker. Stephen is from Naperville, Ill., so he's closer to home. We also have Andre Casas, but both guys are very capable.

TG: Return-wise, Dakota (Caton) being back strikes me immediately as that element of your game where he has demonstrated he can be a game-changer. Where do you see the punt and kick returners?

CM: At kick return, there's Dakota. He's just got that knack. He's got great vision. He just finds a way to come out the other end. We have guys who are capable to be kick returners. You look at the running back side with [Justin] Dinka with great speed. He jumps to mind, but Dakota will be our main kick returner.

Dante [Hendrix] has been so darn reliable back there as a punt returner. He possesses the ball and has the ability to do some things. Those guys jump out at you. We'll look at some other guys to see how we can ride that depth.

TG: It's early and there's things to develop everywhere, but where do you put the expectation of this team. As I wrote on [July 22], you have the schedule from hell. It's great to have a good schedule, but it's unforgiving. Where do you set the expectations for these guys?

CM: I put the expectation on us. When I read the article, it was exactly what I had been saying. It's like, 'oh my gosh, we're playing four of the top five teams at our level and Purdue.'

Having the guys set the expectation has been the challenge for this team from day one. When they look at the schedule, the expectation isn't high to have a great year. I tell them that they have to set the expectations within the room. You have to set the expectation to be great.

I can honestly tell you this ... I've never been more excited to coach a football team than this team. I don't know if that means this is going to be the best team, but I know they'll play the best as a team. I see it in their work ethic and how they are off the field. I see it in the classroom with a 3.3 GPA. I'm excited and I know they are too.

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Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.