Northwest Missouri State's secondary returns this season without key players who made the leaderboards in 2018, including safety Trent Nally and cornerback Jack Richards.

Nally ranked third in the MIAA in 2018 with four interceptions for 32 total yards. Richards ranked slightly lower in the MIAA at 14th in the interception category, but leads in the overall statistics with 5 total picks last season.

Despite graduating two defensive powerhouses, the Bearcats now turn to the defensive backs with some experience in the backfield.

“Most of them is their second year back there. But it’s exciting for us because they have a year of experience underneath their belt. They’re a solid group. If we can stay healthy we’re going to be tough to beat,” senior defensive end Spencer Phillips said.

Defensive back Chama Pierre returns for his senior season. The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder from Lake Worth, Florida, played in 11 games last season, starting the final nine games at cornerback.

He totaled 14 solo tackles out of 18 last season, and registered nine pass breakups. He also had a season-high four pass breakups in the team’s 27-13 win over Nebraska-Kearney last October.

Blake Bayer returns for his junior season after playing in nine games last year, starting three of them at safety.

He ended the season with 14 total tackles and two pass breakups, with his season-high six tackles and one tackle-for-loss in the team’s 38-17 win at Washburn last September.

J’Ravien Anderson from Fort Myers, Florida, also will add experience to the backfield. The 6-foot-1, 188 pound cornerback returns for his junior season, after playing in nine games last year.

He ended the 2018 season with six pass breakups and 21 total tackles. His season-high six tackles came in the 42-17 NCAA Division II playoff win at Grand Valley State last November.

Another young returner who could make an impact is sophomore Trey Washington. The 6-foot-1, 175 pound defensive back from Grimes, Iowa,  played in nine games last year.

In his 2018 campaign, he made 10 solo tackles out of 15 total, had three pass breakups, and had a season-high four tackles versus Fort Hays State last November.

The Bearcats rank first in scoring defense in the MIAA, with an average of 13.3 points per game. Northwest also had 11 picks last year, ranking sixth in the MIAA.

The Bearcats are currently fifth in the MIAA in passing defense. Head coach Rich Wright said the secondary needs to step up this season in order for the defensive unit to be dominant.

“Really the biggest thing we got to do is minimize the explosive plays. If we’re playing our style of defense, we’re going to give up first downs, but we’re not going to give up big chunks of yards. We feel like if we can do that and force the offense to drive the ball against us, we’re going to be pretty good,” Wright said.

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Micaela Dea is a sports reporter for News-Press NOW. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Growing up in San Diego, Micaela loves to travel, meet new people, and tell stories. Have a story idea? Don't hesitate to email!