• Columbia safety Ahmad Williams (back) and linebacker Marlon Pollock (left) knock a pass away from receiver Marquez Bell during Wednesday’s practice (JORDAN KROEGER/Lake City Reporter).
    Columbia safety Ahmad Williams (back) and linebacker Marlon Pollock (left) knock a pass away from receiver Marquez Bell during Wednesday’s practice (JORDAN KROEGER/Lake City Reporter).

PREP FOOTBALL: Secondary coming into its own at Columbia

Defensive backs have grown up into a solidfied unit in camp.

Going up against the likes of TJ Jones and Marquez Bell, Columbia’s defensive backs have no choice but to step up their games.

Facing highly touted receivers day in and day out in practice has only made the Tigers’ secondary better. That’s especially true of junior cornerbacks Derek Johnson and Devin Johnson, twin brothers thrown into the fire last year as sophomores.

The twins took their lumps in 2017 but have only come out stronger players because of it. They feel they’re even ready to take the next step at corner, locking down their islands against opponents this season.

“They’re basically the best, I feel, in the state. Maybe in the country,” Derek Johnson said of Columbia’s receivers. “We’re getting the workout we deserve and it’s helping our DBs get to where we want to be so I’m glad to go against guys that actually have the skills that our receivers do.”

It’s been a challenge everyday in practice going up against Jones and Bell. Jones is a four-star prospect with 34 collegiate offers heading into his senior season while Bell has 12 offers entering his junior season.

Then there’s Bobby Fulton and Jaden ‘Butter’ Williams, two more pass catchers primed for breakout seasons.

“To be able to have the opportunity to go against high caliber receivers like them, it gives our DBs the ability the work on our craft and put, as coach likes to say, tools in our toolbox, so when it comes to those game situations we’re able to make the plays we need to make,” Devin Johnson said.

Even in just eight days of training camp, Columbia head coach Brian Allen has seen a big improvement from his two corners. Add in the experience of senior safeties Brandon Scott and Ahmad Williams, who transferred back to Columbia from Winter Park in the spring, and Columbia believes it has a sound group in the secondary after a year of growing up.

“You look from a year ago, that was one of the areas that we identified was young and was going to have some growing pains but they definitely have grown,” Allen said. “The thing that’s a major key is when you’re competing against somebody that’s a high level player, it brings out a high level of play from you. That’s been the biggest thing.”

The secondary could also get a boost in the next few days. Sirr Rollins says he expects to hear back from the Florida High School Athletic Association on his age appeal by next Tuesday. Rollins started at safety last season with Scott and would add depth to an already experienced unit.

In the meantime, Williams and Scott continue to hold it down at safety. But the story for Allen has been the twins, who Allen says never once dropped their heads last year in an up and down season. Allen said that’s the kind of player he wants to coach and he believes he’s now solidified the position after coaching the secondary a season ago,

“Brandon and Ahmad should be playing like they are because they’re seniors but to see your two junior corners that are on an island at any point having to go against two very good receivers day in, day out, that’s only going to help them as the season progresses,” Allen said. “I’ve been pleased with the way they’re playing. It’s only going to get better. I don’t want them where they need to be right now. I want them through the 10 games they play to be where they need to be in November.”

Second Slider: 

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