The defensive back group is one of the more intriguing position groups for the Bobcats heading into the season.
At the end of 2022, the Bobcats lost three good defensive backs led by two-time All-MAC safety Tariq Drake.
Yet, through a blend of experienced returning starters, promising youth, and a sprinkle of portal magic, Ohio may prove to have one of the MAC’s better backfields despite the losses.
Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the group and some of what makes them compelling for 2023.
- John Gregory (graduation)
- Zack Sanders CB/S (pursue professional football)
- Cam McCullum (no longer on roster)
- Chris Kammerer (no longer on roster)
- Tank Pearson (transfer from Northwest Mississippi CC [JUCO])
- Kendall Bannister (incoming recruit)
- Toby Adensaya (incoming recruit)
- Creed Hill (incoming recruit)
- Justin Birchette
- Roman Parodie
- Torrie Cox Jr.
- Mekah Ryder
Anchoring the Bobcats secondary are three guys returning from 2022, a talented mix of experienced players and promising youth.
The elder statesman of the group is Justin Birchette, who brings a wealth of experience with 40 career appearances, starting on special teams then working his way into the starting lineup. Birchette has locked down a corner spot for the past few seasons and came up with big plays in close games last year. For instance, Ohio and Northern Illinois were tied at 17 in the fourth quarter when Huskies running back Antario Brown broke free and Birchette, the last man, tracked him down after a 49-yard gain to prevent the score. The defense regrouped to force a punt on the series and the Bobcats won 24-17.
In just his first season as a regular, redshirt freshman Torrie Cox Jr. had a breakout effort in 2022, earning College Football News’ Freshman All-American third-team honors by logging 52 stops, three interceptions, six pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. Showing notable awareness, ball skills, and physicality last year, look for Cox Jr. to be a difference maker for the ‘Cats in 2023.
Roman Parodie returns as an important member of the group. With 25 appearances under his belt in the past three seasons, Parodie is an experienced option in his prime. Parodie flashed some good cover skills in 2022 and tied Birchette as team leader with eight pass break ups.
The Bobcats struck gold the last few years with JUCOs from Northwest Mississippi CC including future All-MAC performer WR Jacoby Jones and possible 2023 interior defensive line starter Rayyon Buell. For 2023, the ‘Cats went to the well once more by signing CB Byron “Tank” Pearson.
Pearson is an experienced and productive option for Ohio, logging 30 career appearances at the JUCO level with 9 interceptions and 33 pass break ups while contributing 117 stops.
Rounding out the group with a good chance to see the field on special teams or in a backup role, Mekah Ryder returns after four appearances last year and brings good size to the position at six-foot-one, 180 lbs. Freshman Kendall Bannister has earned some praise by the coaches in summer camp and scrimmages and may be in line for some early reps to show what he can do on gameday.
- Tariq Drake (graduation)
- Alvin Floyd (graduation)
- Tyler Mullins (not on roster)
- Walter Reynolds (transfer from Holy Cross [FCS])
- Myles Fleming (transfer from Minnesota)
- DJ Walker (incoming recruit)
- Jalen Thompson (incoming recruit)
- Adonis Williams Jr.
- Austin Brawley
- Ben Johnson
- Cam Dorsey
- Xander Karagosian
- Nife Oseni
- John Motton
- Bailey Russ
- Jeremiah Wood
This group lost a few impact players from 2022 who will be missed in Tariq Drake and Alvin Floyd but very well may be improved on the whole with the development of some promising newer guys in the offseason coupled with some portal transfers.
Running a base 4-2-5 it is possible to see three guys from this group on the field at any given time.
One of these guys, Adonis Williams Jr., returns as a player with significant potential after having made a mark in 2022 as a true freshman. Williams Jr. spent a lot of time around the box in a hybrid linebacker/safety role and demonstrated at an early age the kind of toughness and physicality that is Ohio’s calling card.
As we discussed to some extent in the “What’s New in 2023 for the Bobcats,” it would be difficult to overhype the potential Holy Cross transfer Walter Reynolds brings to the ‘Cats based on his resume and overall fit.
Reynolds is a proven playmaker with 183 stops, 32 passes defensed, and ten interceptions in his college career.
Importantly, the former Crusader brings a wealth of experience and leadership to a defensive group featuring young but rising players like Cox Jr.,Williams Jr., and Austin Brawley. Reynolds has 43 career starts under his belt at safety and corner and is a proven leader and winner, serving as a captain in 2022 while helping his squad to a 12-1 record and a sixth place finish in the FCS Poll.
Finally, Reynolds’ reputation for physicality and toughness fits the Bobcat philosophy. Before joining Ohio, the Crusader captain was a two-time “Hammer Award” winner, recognizing the big hitter at Holy Cross.
Another newcomer in the mix is Minnesota transfer Miles Fleming, who comes to the ‘Cats after three seasons under former Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck. Fleming was on the radar of the current Bobcats safety coach John Hauser and defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky back in 2020 when both coaches were with rival Miami because Fleming received an offer to play for the RedHawks before choosing Minnesota. While joining Minnesota as a corner, Fleming currently projects at safety for the ‘Cats.
Austin Brawley returns for his second season after making an impact on special teams with a few spot starts as only a true freshman, appearing in 13 games. Look for Brawley to have a bigger role this year, building on his 20 stops and a sack in 2022.
Ben Johnson and Nife Oseni return and will likely resume their roles on special teams and provide some depth.
Linebacker-turned-safety Jeremiah Wood also returns after battling through injuries the last few years and should find a role if healthy.
Rounding out the review, one new face to keep an eye on based on his high school resume is DJ Walker. A three-sport star (track, basketball), Walker was also a versatile playmaker in football as a senior with six interceptions and six touchdowns as a wideout while amassing a reported 17 FBS and FCS offers.
This is the fifth entry in a series of Ohio football previews. The next piece will focus on the special teams. Please look forward to that! If you missed any other entries, please check out our preseason previews storystream here.
Ohio kicks off their 2023 campaign Saturday, August 26th at 7 p.m. ET, as they travel to San Diego, California to face off against the San Diego State Aztecs.