New Hampshire Football Report

Safety among UNH’s strengths

NOTE: This is the first  in a series of stories on position groups within the UNH football team as spring football heads towards the annual Blue-White game in Wildcat Stadium on Saturday, May 4 at noon.

DURHAM – Safeties first.

The University of New Hampshire football team’s defense has had an edge on the offense as spring practice hits the midway point. No surprise there.

The Wildcats are in the process of developing a new hierarchy at quarterback and looking to rebuild their group of receivers as well.

The defense, on the other hand, is largely fine-tuning things and working for the most part with a crew of veterans: Especially in the back end of the defense, from the linebackers to the cornerbacks and safeties.

“The experience the defense has at the second level is really helping the team,” said head coach Sean McDonnell. “I think that’s going to be a strength of the defense, between the safeties and the corners and the two inside linebackers. I think we’re going to be OK at those positions as long as we stay healthy.”

Senior-to-be Pop Lacey and junior Evan Horn – both of whom have been making big plays in the backfield for the last couple of seasons — lead the pack at safety and will be joined by sophomore Pop Bush, among others.

Lacey played as a true freshman and goes into the season with 203 total tackles and five interceptions.

“He definitely has instincts for the position,” said assistant coach John Bowes, who works with the safeties. “He has really, really good eyes. He can kind of see where some wide receivers are going. If he has to look at the quarterback, he has a good feel and timing of when to break on the football. He’s getting a lot of hands on balls this spring, which is good.”

Lacey had a pair of interceptions last season, including one for a 15-yard touchdown at Colorado.

“His position is probably the hardest out of the safeties because he’s going to be put on an island a little bit and he’s always going to have to be the eraser if something breaks down in the front,” Bowes said. “He’s going to have to come up and make some difficult tackles, which he did a great job of last year.”

Lacey had 79 total tackles last year to share the team lead with linebacker Quinlen Dean.

“He’s also a very physical player,” Bowes said. “He’s a big safety. He’s over 200 pounds and he likes to make his presence felt on the field, whether it’s hitting wide receivers, coming down hill on running backs, making tackles in the backfield or making open field tackles. Those two things I think separate him from other safeties in the league and give us an advantage.”

Lacey was named All-CAA second team last season and was a third-team selection as a freshman.

Evan Horn was named a Hero Sports FCS sophomore All American last season.

“Sometimes when you’re looking at the film and Evan makes a play you’re, ‘OK, that’s not exactly how I taught it,’ but he makes the play,” Bowes said. “You don’t want to take that away from him. I think he has incredible instincts. Just on the field of realizing how a play’s developing, where he can be, what he can do to impact that play. He’s one of our smartest safeties.”

Horn returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns last season and had a 56-yard pick-six in the FCS playoffs against Central Arkansas among his three interceptions as a redshirt freshman.

“He just makes plays each and every day,” Bowes said. “He gets hands on balls. He can cover guys in space. The biggest thing that we have to work on with him is just coming downhill a little bit more in the run game. He’s gotten a lot better at that.”

Horn, who played for the UNH basketball team following his redshirt freshman football season, focused on the weight room this winter.

“He wanted to focus on the weight room,” Bowes said. “He wanted to get bigger. He wanted to get stronger. I think that shows out on the field. He’s also over 200 pounds. When he goes, he can get his presence felt because of just how explosive he is and how strong he is. He’s definitely gotten a lot stronger since last fall, which will help him tremendously.

Pop Bush joins Lacey and Horn.

“Pop Bush is going to be taking a lot more reps this year,” Bowes said. “He played a little bit last year on defense. He had a real big year on special teams. Got hurt a little bit and came back at the end of the year and played that last game against URI really, really well.”

Bush was effective against Colorado, too.

“He’s explosive, he’s strong, he’s strong-willed, which helps right there,” Bowes said. “Nothing can really faze him and he wants to learn, always willing to learn. This spring he’s taken a huge leap to where we’re going to depend on him and trust him. He’s going to make some plays for us this fall.”

Senior Matt Sherlock adds another veteran to the group that also includes redshirt freshmen Max Oxendine, Joe Eichman and Symir Blacknall.

They’re ready to go.

“We’re excited about our secondary,” Lacey said. “Our secondary’s a bunch of older guys, which is very good and that’s always what you need. So we’re pretty excited about that, too. . . . We know as a defense we’re going to be pretty solid.”

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