eastern kentucky

Former Henry Clay standout Tyrelle Johnson the main man now in Eastern Kentucky's defense

mmaloney@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2014 

  • Scouting report

    Coach: Dean Hood (40-29 in six seasons at EKU)

    Last season: 6-6 overall; 4-4 and tied for fifth place in Ohio Valley Conference

    Returning starters: 14 (6 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams)

    Outlook: The Colonels are picked to finish fourth in the OVC.

    EKU will be unusually deep at tailback and quarterback. At tailback, leading rusher J.J. Jude returns. Jared Sanders, Caleb Watkins, Kentayvus Hopkins and Dy'Shawn Mobley all are weapons to be reckoned with, along with fullback Channing Fugate. "So we're as deep as we've ever been and we're as different as we've ever been," Coach Dean Hood said. "Each one of those guys has a different set of skills and something different that they bring to the table."

    At quarterback, EKU returns starter Jared McClain, backup Kyle Romano and redshirt freshman Barton Mann. Add to the mix freshman Tyler Swafford and Cincinnati transfer Bennie Coney.

    On defense, "we've moved down and we've moved over," Hood said. "We've moved down from a standpoint of taking safeties and moving them down to the SAM linebacker position; then we've taken SAM linebackers and moved them down to the defensive end position, and that makes us faster immediately. Then we moved over Thomas Owens (from tailback to linebacker). There's a guy that was our third-leading rusher at tailback, a very talented kid, a very skilled kid, and moved him over to the linebacking corps. He's one of our fastest linebackers, obviously."

    Question marks; Last year, EKU needed to replace about 90 percent of its offensive production. This time, the situation has flip-flopped, and its defense is the unknown. The Colonels are missing three of their front four from last season and two of three linebackers.

    Game of the Year: The league opener at UT Martin could set a tone. Eastern and UTM were picked 4-5 in a preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors.

    Players to watch

    FB Channing Fugate: Hood says Fugate will fill one of the bigger holes that the Colonels had last season. "The biggest thing we missed was we weren't a very physical football team a year ago," Hood said, "and I think Channing brings that for us at the point of attack."

    TB Dy'Shawn Mobley: The transfer from the University of Kentucky "is just so versatile," Hood said. "He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can make a guy miss, he can lower his pad level and get that tough yard. He's very secure with the football."

    S Brandon Stanley: Hood says every receiver in the league will want to know where Stanley is, in hopes of avoiding him. "It's almost like having a good shot-blocker" in basketball, Hood said. "He may not block every shot, but he's changing a lot of shots."

    LB Khiry Maddox: "Khiry is just our glue," Hood said. "He's a great leader. He's probably the best special teams player that we've had since I've been here. He is no question a team-above-self guy, an encourager. And he's a guy we can't live without."

    K Andrew Lloyd: Hood says Lloyd is "a guy I think can be a heck of a weapon inside of 50 yards, which we haven't had since Taylor Long."

RICHMOND — Dean Hood has never had any doubts about Tyrelle Johnson's potential.

It was evident when Johnson arrived at Eastern Kentucky University, fresh out of Henry Clay High School.

"He had a great suddenness and was a very explosive player," Hood said.

Now a 6-foot, 220-pound fifth-year senior, Johnson is getting his chance to start, taking over the middle linebacker spot once held by Ichiro Vance.

A key will be if Johnson can stay healthy.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2010, he missed the first three games of 2011 because of an ankle injury. He was limited to four games in 2012 by another injury. Last year, he played in all 12 games, with one start, at weakside linebacker.

"You never know when you're going to get injured. You never know when you're going to be able to come back," Johnson said. "I had to suffer from two concussions actually ... But I went the whole spring, didn't have no injuries, no concussions. Felt great. Running great. Head feels good, so I'm just excited to get back and ready to play."

Moving to the middle will be a change. He's now the man making all the defensive calls.

"I used to be a quiet dude, but now you hear my yelling all over the field and stuff," Johnson said. "So that's probably the biggest change, is me having to make all the calls, and everybody looking at me on defense."

The once-quiet dude isn't one to brag. He does allow, though, that he has speed to burn. And he loves to hit.

He is inspired in part by his cousin, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Winston Guy.

"I'll say I'm faster than him and he'll say he's faster than me. We'll tease each other a little but, but it's all love," Johnson said. "I always look at his films. I mainly look at ones in practice. I love the way he practices. He really inspires me every day to come out here and give my best."

Johnson says he tries to practice the way he aims to play — hard all the time.

He also likes to be the first one on the practice field so that he can do extra stretching. He recognizes that he has been injury prone, and he wants to take measures to avoid further setbacks.

Already with a bachelor of arts degree, Johnson is working on a second degree in criminal justice. He says he can see himself someday working in the office of an agency such as the FBI.

He has come a long way since his days at Henry Clay, where he began as a basketball player.

"One day in high school a friend asked me if I wanted to play football," he said. "I was like 'I never tried it, but I'll try.' And ever since then, I've been playing football."

He says he knew football was going to be his sport of choice when, in his first game, he made a tackle for a loss.

His joy for the game goes beyond individual thrills, though.

"I love the brotherhood," he said. "It's more than just a team. I love these guys like my brothers. And it's a team thing — everyone's got to be all-for-one. I like that."

Hood sees Johnson as a key cog in the EKU defense.

"If he stays healthy, man, he is a guy that can run, he's a guy that can hit," Hood said. "He's a very intense, passionate football player. That kind of bleeds over onto our other guys. He can really give us that explosiveness that we need at that linebacker position."

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.

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