In today’s modern version of college football, where offenses often need a strong passing game, the need for shutdown defensive backs may be at an all-time high.
As SEC programs debate which is the real “DBU,” the pressure is on cornerbacks and safeties to make impact plays in nearly every game. While this may seem like a recent phenomenon, that’s actually not the case at all.
The SEC has always had stellar defensive back play, dating back to seasons that have long been forgotten. With a noteworthy crop of defensive backs leaving the conference, teams will look for young players to step up and take their place.
In anticipation of some breakout seasons, we’ve taken a look back at the best sophomore seasons by defensive backs in SEC history. This list is based on interception totals, and the players who are tied have been listed in alphabetical order.
T-10: Mark Barron, Alabama (2009)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 125 INT YDs, 1 TD, 76 Tackles, 18 PD, 3.5 TFL
Part of the recruiting class that started Alabama’s modern dynasty, Barron became a mainstay in the Crimson Tide’s secondary during his career. As a full-time starter in 2009, Barron led the SEC with seven interceptions and finished second on the team with 74 tackles.
T-10: Eric Berry, Tennessee (2008)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 265 INT YDs, 2 TDs, 72 Tackles, 7 TFL
One of the nation’s top recruits coming out of high school, Berry started every game during his career at Tennessee. After recording five interceptions as a freshman, Berry snagged seven passes in 2008, which tied him for the most in the country. Berry recorded 14 interceptions in his three seasons with the Vols, and he became the first player in school history to lead the team in interceptions for three consecutive seasons.
T-10: Ahmad Black, Florida (2008)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 191 INT YDs, 2 TDs, 59 Tackles
After playing a reserve role as a true freshman, Black began his sophomore season as Florida’s starting safety. He finished the season with seven interceptions, including one in the BCS National Championship Game, which tied him for most in the nation. Black finished his career with 13 interceptions for the Gators.
T-10: John Clifford, Florida (1970)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 54 INT YDs, 1 TD
While some may know him as one of two players who refused to take a dive during the famous “Gator Flop,” Clifford set the school record for interceptions during his sophomore season. Even more impressive was that Clifford’s seven interceptions came in just seven games.
T-10: Mike Jones, Tennessee (1967)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 150 INT YDs
In his first season with Tennessee’s varsity team, Jones led the Vols with seven interceptions. He followed up his impressive debut with two more strong seasons and ultimately finished his college career with 16 interceptions, which is tied for seventh in SEC history.
T-10: Corey Webster, LSU (2002)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 75 INT YDs, 1 TD, 36 Tackles, 24 PD
Although he was initially recruited to LSU as a wide receiver, Webster was converted to a cornerback before his sophomore season by Nick Saban. He flourished at his new position, intercepting seven passes and deflecting 17 others. Webster ended his college career with 16 interceptions, in just three years on defense, tied for the seventh-most in SEC history.
T-10: Will White, Florida (1990)
Sophomore stats: 7 INTs, 116 INT YDs, 35 Tackles, 5 PD
After a breakout sophomore season, White was named a First Team All-American. His seven interceptions were the second-most in the nation and the most in the SEC. With three interceptions against Alabama, White tied the SEC and Florida record for most interceptions in a game.
T-3: Robert Lester, Alabama (2010)
Sophomore stats: 8 INTs, 102 INT YDs, 52 Tackles, 1.5 TFL
As a teammate of Julio Jones at Foley High School, Lester practiced against the very best at a young age. Lester and Jones began their careers with the Crimson Tide at the same time, but the former didn’t see the field nearly as quickly. Still, Lester made his mark as a redshirt sophomore, intercepting an SEC-high eight passes and becoming a staple of Alabama’s defense. Looks like that high school practice paid off.
T-3: Chris Williams, LSU (1978)
Sophomore stats: 8 INTs, 72 INT YDs, 48 Tackles
LSU had a very good secondary in the late ’70s, and Williams was a key part of that unit. An athletic, speedy defensive back, Williams led the Tigers with eight interceptions. Williams finished his career at LSU with 20 interceptions, which is tied for the most in SEC history.
No. 1: Hootie Ingram, Alabama (1952)
Sophomore stats: 11 INTs, 162 INT YDs, 2 TDs
Although Ingram is officially listed in the SEC record book as recording 10 interceptions in his sophomore season of 1952, the Alabama defensive back snagged his 11th interception in the team’s 61-6 victory over Syracuse in the 1953 Orange Bowl. The NCAA did not begin to count postseason stats until 2002, but that doesn’t mean we can’t. Incredibly, Ingram was switched to offense after his stellar sophomore season and played both quarterback and halfback. He truly made plays all over the field during his record-setting career at Alabama.