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Cougars’ defensive leaders set to return


Junior linebacker Derrick Mathews has helped transform a defense that was one of the nation's worst into the best. the Cougars' 18 turnovers ranks first in the nation. |  File photo/The Daily Cougar

Junior linebacker Derrick Mathews has helped transform a defense that was one of the nation’s worst into the best. | File photo/The Daily Cougar

As the much-anticipated football season approaches, Houston’s three starting linebackers return to build on their anticipation and individual successes.

Seniors Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant, along with sophomore Steven Taylor return as starters for the 2014 season. They hope to build on last season’s accomplishments with a higher level of confidence.

“Any time you have success it breeds confidence. We have a lot of work to do, but the kids believe in the system, and they believe in the calls coming from the sidelines,” said defensive coordinator David Gibbs. “Obviously, we’re excited in the second year, but at the same time, you have to go out there and do it every week.”

Oliphant led the team last season in tackles with 134 total stops. He was ranked 12th nationally in tackles with an average of 10.3 per game, and he forced fumbles against Temple and Memphis last season as a first year starter.

Last season, weakside linebacker Derrick Mathews was viewed as a strong force on the field and a defensive leader for the Cougars, though Mathews humbly rejects that notion.

“I really don’t think I have to but if I do, I talk to people individually,” Mathews said regarding being viewed as a leader of the Houston defense.

Mathews was Houston’s second leading tackler, contributing 116 stops.

Sophomore Steven Taylor is certainly no stranger to confidence building and believing in the system. Starting off as a solid redshirt freshman, Taylor took over as Houston’s starting strong side linebacker in Houston’s third game last season.

He led all Houston linebackers last season with five pass breakups and has proven himself as a player that to watch out for.

“Steven Taylor is a guy that’ll strike,” said linebackers assistant coach Vernon Hargreaves. “I guess you can call him the unknown entity of the team.”

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