Chris Megginson, from his perch at free safety, had the ideal view of the Liberty defense during the Flames’ victory over Buffalo this past weekend. And what the Heritage High product saw brought a smile to his face.
Micah Glaize was lined up next to Megginson at rover. Tayvion Land was near the line of scrimmage at nickelback. And Kei’Trel Clark was in man-to-man coverage at field cornerback.
Four true freshmen were manning the secondary for the Flames in the waning moments of the 35-17 triumph at Williams Stadium. It wasn’t a fluke that those four, along with fellow freshmen defensive ends Brayden Monday and TreShaun Clark, were asked to finish the game after steadily moving up the depth chart and receiving praise from their position coaches dating back to their arrivals over the summer.
“I definitely embraced that moment because we’re kind of the future of the team,” Megginson said. “Just for us as freshmen to be out there together is definitely a great look for what we have in the future and what we plan to come with.”
The four freshmen in the secondary have broken into a rotation filled to the brim with experience across the five positions. The starting lineup consists of two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore (free safety JaVon Scruggs, who played in every game last season), and the backups all have collegiate experience, whether with Liberty or at the junior college level.
Flames defensive coordinator Scott Symons, however, never set a depth chart during training camp with the hopes competition would bring out the best in his unit. And the freshmen, through a mindset of wanting to get on the field immediately, stood out with their play and understanding of the defense.
“That’s half the battle; when you’re playing a true freshman, they’ve got to have that swagger and that confidence,” Symons said, “and we’ve got some guys that do.”
Megginson and Kei’Trel Clark have played in all three games so far this season. Megginson got in early in the opener against Syracuse when the Flames went with a two-high safety look, and Clark has served as Bejour Wilson’s backup at field corner from the get-go.
Coaches moved Megginson, who originally was signed to play cornerback, to safety to create depth in training camp. He has posted six tackles (four solo) through the first three weeks.
“The thing that Chris brings to the table is his athletic ability,” Symons said of Megginson, who won the long jump state title at the Class 3 indoor track & field championship as a senior at Heritage. “He’s got to get more physical, and I’m on him about that. Part of that, though, is going to come with an offseason.
“I don’t know if Chris long-term is a safety for us; I think he could be an elite boundary corner. That’s where we signed him to play but plugged him in at free safety out of necessity. He’s done a really good job, and I’m really proud of him. He’s getting more and more confident.”
Clark and Land certainly haven’t lacked in confidence since arriving on campus prior to summer workouts with the strength and conditioning staff. Land, out of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, was the program’s first four-star signee, and Clark was a two-star signee and led Manchester High to the Class 6 state title last December.
“I came here expecting to play right away. But that’s just my mindset,” the 5-foot-8 Land said. “I should get on the field; if not, then it’s something I’m doing wrong in practice to not be playing. My mindset when I stepped on campus was to get on the field.”
Land posted two assisted tackles and a pass breakup against Buffalo. It was his first collegiate appearance. He got the start at nickelback over Ceneca Espinoza Jr.
Clark, on the other hand, has been active in the secondary. He originally was slated to play at boundary corner until Land suffered a groin injury during training camp. That moved Clark over to field, where he has shined alongside Emanuel Dabney as the second pair of cornerbacks in the rotation.
Clark has seven tackles and two pass breakups.
“Tre Clark has been performing at a high level from week to week,” Symons said. “He’s just got to get some things cleaned up, but the talent is obviously there and the competitive nature.”
Glaize, who at Brookville High lined up opposite of Megginson’s Pioneers, was the one out of the four who never got a chance to show the coaching staff what he could do during training camp. He pulled a hamstring early on and missed the majority of the camp. The 6-foot-1 Glaize returned to practice in the week leading up to the opener, played on special teams at Louisiana, then finally got in on defense against Buffalo.
He gave a glimpse of his physical play with a jarring hit near the sideline that broke up a pass intended for Bulls wide receiver Antonio Nunn.
“I was pleased with him coming in,” Symons said of Glaize. “I thought the PBU on the sideline was really good to see. He’s a natural football player. We’ve just got to get him more and more reps and keep growing.”
Megginson and Land may move to different positions as their careers evolve at Liberty, but Glaize seems to be right at home at rover with his hard-hitting mentality. He has two upperclassmen ahead of him on the depth chart (Elijah Benton and Benjamin Alexander) and any experience he gets this season will give him a head start on preparing for the future.
“It was definitely big for me to be able to play against Buffalo,” Glaize said. “The coaches just told me to be patient and trust the process of recovering. So I decided to listen to them and finally got out there.”