It must be the pears. All-American safety Daryus Skinner of Winston-Salem State decided that was his snack of choice before a recent practice.
And who’s to argue with that choice after last season, when he held the Rams’ defense together. His 11 interceptions in nine games led all of Division II.
The beauty of what made Skinner so good last season was the experienced players surrounding him. Skinner and fellow four-year starter De’Andre Blevins have been in the defensive backfield so long opponents are likely getting tired of seeing them.
“It’s real big that we have all this experience,” Skinner said. “Everything just has to fall into place, and we have to stay humble. That’s what we are focusing on as we get ready to start this season.”
The Rams are scheduled to open their season Saturday night at UNC Pembroke at 7 p.m. That game was moved back from its scheduled Thursday kickoff due to concerns about Hurricane Dorian.
The luxury Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Rams, has is five of WSSU’s top six defensive backs are seniors.
“I think there is some fear from the other teams, but we want teams to take those shots,” Skinner said. “We just want teams to try.”
Coming into the 2019 season, Skinner has 15 career interceptions, He has a chance to break the school record of 21 set in the early 1970s by Edward Green.
A switch in defensive schemes by Massey and his co-coordinator on defense, Tremayne Henry, to a 4-2-5 means more of those experienced defensive backs will be on the field at once. Skinner says he likes the new scheme.
“It allows us to do more as a defense,” Skinner said. “We rotate a little more and everybody has a chance to get those picks, so we’re excited about it.”
Beside Skinner and Blevins, seniors Jameson Kimbrough, Omar Baker and junior Josh Flowers likely will start with senior Daijon Carson also seeing plenty of playing time to give the Rams one of the deepest and most experienced units in the CIAA.
“They are all close,” Massey said what sets WSSU’s defensive backs apart. “And I didn’t have to force it. They all hang out together and work with one another and all know each other so well.”
Massey, who also coaches the secondary and was an All-Pro cornerback in the NFL, says having such an experienced secondary is the team’s biggest strength.
“A good example is, if I’m running late with some head coaching stuff and practice has started, they just line up and do their stuff on their own,” Massey said. “They all know what to do and they just do it. That’s the beauty of all the experience we have back there.”
Last season, the secondary had 14 total interceptions as the Rams went 5-4.
Blevins and Skinner were both key players on the Rams’ 2016 CIAA championship team — the team’s most recent conference title — as freshmen. Blevins looks around and realizes this is his last chance to win another CIAA title.
“I’m hoping everything goes by slow because it’s my last year, so I’m trying to take it slow and make every practice and every game count,” Blevins said. “When it’s all said and done, I want to say I’ve given it all I’ve got.”
Skinner loves how the defense has performed this preseason. Wide receiver Darren Dowdell said it’s tough to go against such a good secondary every day in practice.
“They can all play,” Dowdell said, “but because of that, I think it’s making our offense better.”
Coming off such a big season, it’d be easy to think Skinner might slack off just a little. Massey said that isn’t the case at all with his star safety.
“With the way he’s worked this preseason camp, I don’t think Skinner is a one-year wonder,” Massey said. “I think he’s a guy that has worked extremely hard, and the other guys see that.”
As the Rams head into their season Massey was asked if opponents might be afraid to throw against them.
“I hope so,” he said.