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FAU has played nearly a dozen defensive backs this season –– but has still produced one of the top mid-major secondary’s in the country.
The Owls are giving up just 150.2 yards passing a game, which is good enough to rank seventh at the FBS level.
Keith Reaser (pictured) and D’Joun Smith have formed a lockdown tandem at cornerback, but it’s what coordinator Pete Rekstis has been able to do with the other players in the defensive backfield that has made a difference.
Rekstis has been able to find experience in youth and uncork the potential in them.
When FAU travels to UAB on Saturday, they will likely be without starting safety Jeremy McKnight, but according to Rekstis that won’t be a problem. True freshman Lester Thomas is slated to make his first career start –– and the drop off should be minimal. Thomas replaced the injured McKnight last week against Rice, and fared well.
“He stepped in and didn’t miss a beat for the last quarter and a half,” Reksits said. “We always say next guy in… we don’t have any problem putting those guys in.”
Thomas isn’t the only youngster that has seen playing time, as redshirt freshman Josh Orsino has taken meaningful snaps in the nickel and dime packages.
Orsino came to FAU last year after breaking county receiving records in high school, but Rekstis saw something different on film. The coach believed he could turn a slender slot receiver with a handful of FCS offers into a contributor on the Owl’s defense, and after a year on the scout team –– that’s becoming the case.
“He earned that on the practice field,” Rekstis said. “We talked about playing him more last year because he hadn't played DB and right now I think it’s benefiting… He went in last week and played a bunch of snaps against one of the better teams in the conference.”
Along with Orsino and Thomas, Rekstis has tapped into the talents of junior Damian Parms. Before Rekstis arrived at FAU Parms was just another name on the roster, but now the safety become the point man of the defense and secondary.
“We speak the same language, and he understands what’s expected of him,” Rekstis said. “Damian has just got better week after week, as he keeps improving we will feel better with him.”
FAU held Rice to just 69 yards passing last week, which was the lowest total by an opponent since the Owls limited Louisiana Lafayette to 47 yards in 2005. Smith –– who picked up his third interception of the season at Rice –– leads the nation with 12 passes defended.
UAB sports one of Conference-USA’s top running backs in Darrin Reaves, which means if FAU can stop the run –– the pressure will be on the secondary to make defensive tops. Blazers’ quarterback Austin Brown will shuffle through an array of formations, and Rekstis will counter with Reaser, Smith, Parms, Thomas, Orsino and the rest of the rotation.
“We’re going to put our best 11 on the field,” Rekstis said. "We got to do what we do, and do it a little bit better."