CIAA Teams Stacked At Cornerback and Safety Spots

As we prepare for the 2013 football season, we’re taking a look at the best returning HBCU players at each position. Today, we check out the top defensive backs in the CIAA. Tomorrow, the MEAC.

Curtis Pumphrey, Bowie State

Curtis Pumphrey was named CIAA Defensive Rookie of The Year in 2012. (Lawrence Johnson photo)

At 5’8, Curtis Pumphrey may lack for height, but he made up for it with big performances as freshman. The Forestville, MD product recorded eight tackles in his first game against Assumption, also breaking up two passes. He recorded six interceptions in a seven game stretch, including a two against eventual conference champion Winston-Salem State. He was named first-team All CIAA and CIAA Defensive Rookie of The Year after leading the conference in interceptions. With players like Pumphrey and fellow All-CIAA Rookie linebacker Antoine Young emerging as leaders, don’t be surprised if Bowie State makes a run at the Northern Division Championship.

// Nigel Rios, Elizabeth City State

Nigel Rios recorded 82 tackles and broke up 12 passes in 2012. (Daily Advance photo)

Rios may not have the high-interception totals of others on this list, but he’s here for a reason: he makes plays. Rios was strong against the run and the pass, recording 82 tackles as a cornerback and breaking up 12 passes. He also blocked four kicks. He only had one interception, but he made the most of it, returning it 94 yards for a touchdown to help Elizabeth City State win a tight 27-21 game against Virginia Union. If Elizabeth City is going to make it back to the CIAA Championship Game again, Rios will undoubtedly be a big part of that.

// Hearne, Winston-Salem State

Larry Hearne led Winston-Salem State with five interceptions in 2012. (WSSU photo)

Hearne may have not made an all-conference team, but he made big plays when his team needed them. It started in the season opener when Kearne picked off two passes and broke up a potentially game-altering pass against UNC Pembroke to help Winston-Salem State eek out a 28-23 win. Hearne came up with two interceptions in the NCAA playoffs, helping WSSU advance to the National Championship Game. He finished with five interceptions and 12 breakups on a star-studded defense.

Michael Johnson, Fayetteville State

Michael Johnson finished with 93 tackles and four interceptions for Fayetteville State. (Fayetteville Observer photo)

Like Hearne, Johnson was not an All-CIAA selection. That distinction went to his teammate Joshua Scales. But the 6’3, 191 pound Clayton, NC native was just as, if not more important, to Fayetteville State last season. Johnson was all over the field in 2012, finishing with 93 tackles, 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a knack for taking the ball from the other team, forcing two fumbles and picking off four passes. He’s also a dangerous kick returner and with two years of eligibility remaining, it’s likely we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of Johnson’s talent.

Joshua Scales, Fayetteville State

Josh Scales picked off four passes for Fayetteville State. (Fayetteville Observer photo)

Scales entered the 2012 season as a marked man-marked by greatness. The 5’11, 175 pound Southern Pines product had a spectacular sophomore season in 2011, picking off seven passes in eight games. He didn’t quite match those totals last season, but he still came up with four interceptions and led the conference with 16 pass breakups. With he and Johnson roaming the defensive backfield, quarterbacks will have to think long and hard when throwing the ball downfield in 2013.

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