With growth of secondary, Cougars develop safety net

After getting his first start in week three, sophomore free safety Trevon Stewart led all freshman nationally with 126 tackles.  |  File photo/The Daily Cougar

After getting his first start in week three, sophomore free safety Trevon Stewart led all freshman nationally with 126 tackles last season. | File photo/The Daily Cougar

The Cougars’ secondary will look for their young safeties to have a productive year. Both safety starters are underclassmen this season.

Last season, the Cougars’ defense surrendered more than 290 passing yards per game — where they were No. 115 of the 120 teams.

“A lot of people said the weak part of our team was our secondary,” sophomore safety Trevon Stewart said. “We think the opposite of that and feel we actually have some great players at the position when it comes to corner, safety, nickel back and dime. We’ve been making plays throughout spring and fall camp and feel our chemistry is there this time around.”

Although the Cougars will return senior cornerbacks Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates, but when it comes to the backend, Stewart will return at free safety and sophomore Adrian McDonald will start at strong safety, but both of are relatively new to their position.

Stewart was initially recruited at cornerback upon his arrival to UH. It wasn’t until week three against UCLA that defensive backs coach Zac Spavital told Stewart he was going to start at free safety. Since then, all Stewart did was record 126 tackles to lead all freshmen nationally. He also earned Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors and was selected as a Freshman All-American.

Now, after the luxury of spring practices and offseason workouts, he said he is more relaxed at the position

“I am way more comfortable than I was last year because I’m getting to talk to (defensive coordinator (David Gibbs, defensive coordinator) and coach (Spavital,) as far as knowing what to look at, my reads, coverage skills and tackling. It’s going to be a great secondary for the team this year,” Stewart said.

Before coming to UH, McDonald never played defense — he was recruited from high school as a dual-threat quarterback.

On defense last season, McDonald played in the final nine games of the season, including three starts in the secondary. He proved to have a knack for the ball and made consistently made plays.

He had interceptions against UTEP and Marshall and forced two fumbles and recovered another in the season finale against Tulane.

Levine said he knew McDonald had great ability, even if he was forced to play a position that was foreign to him, as he developed over the course of the season on scout team defense and scout special teams.

“For me, if you’ll recall, Stewart last fall at every practice created a turnover, primarily with interceptions. (McDonald) is now in that role,” Levine said.

“I mentioned him going into our first scrimmage, and he comes up with an interception on the opening play and two plays later forces a fumble and recovers it. He loves to play the game, is very instinctive and loves to come up and tackle. He is one of our most sure tacklers.”

Spavital said his secondary has adjusted better and thinks they’re a more developed football team.

“I think we have a better understanding of the system. They’ve seen just about everything you can see in college football,” Spavital said.

“We’re a year-better football team and the thing I’ve noticed is that we’re a more developed at the secondary than we were last year.

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