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2023 Akron Zips Positional Previews: Defensive backs

The Zips don't lose a lot from the secondary, which is encouraging for 2023.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Akron at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Akron at Tennessee Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


  • Charles Amankwaa (transfer to Rutgers)
  • Ronald Jackson Jr. (transfer to Montana [FCS])
  • Jalen Hooks (graduation)


  • N/A


  • Devonte Golden-Nelson
  • Darrian Lewis
  • Tyson Durant

Due to having a 4-2-5 base defense, Akron is one of the few teams in the MAC which separates their cornerbacks from their other "defensive backs” when it comes to setting the paper roster. This gives us some clarification regarding the Zips’ outside corner situation.

Charles Amankwaa, a major contributor to the 2021 edition of the Akron roster, was essentially benched upon Joe Moorhead's arrival, playing in just four games in the 2022 season. He's transferred out to Rutgers, taking an all-MAC pedigree with him. Also out is Ronald Jackson Jr., another 2021 starter. He transfers to FCS powerhouse Montana after a similar four-game campaign last season.

Jalen Hooks, a depth piece with 90 career tackles, six pass break-ups and an interception over four seasons, exhausted his eligibility, cutting the number of outside corners exactly in half.

Hometown kid Darrian Lewis and leading interceptor Tyson Durant will likely return to their starting positions in 2023 for the Zips after a good season. Lewis and Durant both tied for the team lead in pass break-ups (six), while Durant pulled down three interceptions to Lewis’ one. Lewis was also utilized in the blitz, collecting five QB hits last season, which tied him with defensive end Zach Morton.

Both Lewis and Durant are also decent tacklers, collecting 56 and 39 stops, respectively.

The other man in the mix will be former Memphis Tiger Devonte Golden-Nelson. He had 11 total tackles last season in limited run, but the five-foot-10, 185 lb. corner has a three-star pedigree and held several Power Five offers before staying home, so there’s certainly a lot of potential there.

Considering the sheer depth of nickel options, it wouldn't be surprising to see KJ Martin or Cam Threatt to also see time at corner if injuries start to pile up. Silas Proby and Catrell White (both listed as DBs) also fit the size profile for outside corner if need be.

Nickels and safeties

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Akron at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


  • Donte Pollard (transfer to Samford [FCS])
  • Kavari Adams (graduation)
  • Logan Day (graduation)
  • Rishad Hence (not listed on 2023 roster)
  • Jaylen Kelly-Powell (graduation)


  • Joey Hunter (transfer from South Carolina)
  • Terence Thomas (transfer from Purdue)
  • Silas Proby (transfer from Reedley [CA] CC [JUCO] via Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
  • David Jester (incoming recruit)
  • Catrell White (incoming recruit)


  • Jaden Woods
  • Nate Thompson
  • Judson Tallandier
  • KJ Martin
  • Davion Jennings
  • Cam Threatt
  • DiMarco Johnson

Akron utilized three-safety and nickel sets fairly often, making the "defensive back” room a very important one. The good news for the Zips is they bring back two of their three starters to the fold for the 2023 season.

KJ Martin, who transferred in from West Virginia last season, emerged as a leader for a Zips defense in transition, with 54 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and an interception in 11 games from the primary nickel spot.

Former Duke Blue Devil Nate Thompson will also keep his spot at free safety after a campaign where he finished second on the team in total tackles (73 stops), including two for a loss.

The battle for strong safety will be something to watch for in fall camps and over the first few weeks of the season.

Terence Thomas, a transfer from Purdue, could have a potential role in the defensive backfield. Thomas was a three-star prospect at both safety and receiver, possessing a ready five-foot-10, 185 lb. frame to fit where need be.

Joey Hunter is another intriguing transfer project after transferring in from South Carolina. The Sandy Creek, Georgia native couldn't get on the field in Columbia, but he was a desired safety/corner prospect coming out of high school, with a three-star rating per 247Sports.

DiMarco Johnson returns to the roster after being unavailable in the 2022 season, and has re-established himself as a contender for a starting spot, notching an interception in the team's spring scrimmage. Johnson played in all 12 games in 2021, collecting 35 tackles as a special teamer and rotational safety.

Redshirt junior Jaden Woods (29 tackles, two pass break-ups), formerly of Eastern Kentucky, could also see time as either a rotational piece or a starter after a promising 2022 campaign where he finished Top 10 in total tackles.

This is the fifth in a series of Akron football previews, with our next piece addressing special teams. Please look forward to that! If you missed any of the previous entries, you can catch up in our preseason preview storystream here.

Akron’s season kicks off Saturday, September 2nd at 2 p.m. Eastern time in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they are set to play the Temple Owls.