Rams cornerback Quintory Braswell returns an interception during Tuesday’s practice. Braswell will start in the secondary this season, along with defensive captain and star safety Dexter Moody, who believes his team is more than ready for Saturday’s season opener against North Greenville. (Staff photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — It’s been 10 months since the 2012 Albany State season ended in an 18-point loss to rival Fort Valley State, 10 months since the door closed on the Rams’ worst season in a decade.
But Rams senior safety Dexter Moody has a message for everybody still talking about 2012: It’s over, and the Rams are back and hungrier than ever.
And with just a handful of days remaining before Saturday’s season opener at North Greenville, Moody and the Rams believe they are miles ahead of where they were last year at this time.
“Overall, we are ahead of everything,” Moody said. “We understand the defense better than we did last year, and when you are understanding it better, you execute better.”
A week before last year’s season opener, ASU head coach Mike White cautioned that his Rams might not have been ready for the 2012 season to begin, and even though they started the season 1-0 with a win vs. North Greenville, they dropped their next three games by a combined 64 points.
There was no caution, however, in White’s voice earlier this week as he talked about Saturday’s season opener.
“The progress we have made just in this camp has been really positive,” White said. “The first week out here we didn’t look real good. There were a lot of places that we needed guys to step up in. Even our older guys that needed to be in more of a leadership role were not where I thought they would be. But I’ve seen some of those things come into place as we move closer to (Saturday).”
The closer they get, the more polished they look.
And Moody said he hasn’t seen a defense as polished in the preseason as his Rams are right now.
“We are more comfortable with the calls,” said Moody, who is the Rams’ lone preseason HBCU All-American and has the tools to get drafted in the NFL next year. “I am more comfortable with the defense, and I know where my guys should be pre-snap and after the snap. As a team, they understand that also.”
Senior center Hakeem Lassiter, who missed last season with a keloid on his ear, said the offense is strides ahead of 2012 as well.
“We are more mentally ready this year,” Lassiter said about the offense. “Last year we weren’t on the right track, but we are this year. When you come back from a 6-4 season, that’s not good down here. That’s not a good year for us. In our eyes that’s terrible. We are striving to be the best, and this year we are striving.”
White pointed at leaders like Moody, Lassiter and senior linebacker Marcavius Dudley as the foundation for the preseason success.
And it was Moody and Dudley who made the biggest play in the team’s recent intra-squad scrimmage — a play that Moody said exemplifies the Rams’ communication on defense.
After a scoreless 40-play scrimmage Aug. 24, the ASU coaching staff put the ball on the 1-yard line and challenged both the offense and defense to come up with one play.
“They had one play to score, and we had one play to stop them,” Moody said, “and all the bodies were fatigued.”
Moody and Dudley hit the running back at the line of scrimmage and dropped him short of the goal line, giving the Rams a shutout — something they haven’t accomplished in the regular season since 2009.
“We high-fived each other and celebrated as a team,” Moody said. “We are in so much competition out here, but the offense was just as happy for us as we were happy for ourselves.”
It’s the communication between Moody’s secondary and Dudley’s linebackers that could make the difference on defense.
“The biggest thing for us is for Moody’s group and Dudley’s group to communicate,” White said. “When they communicate things work a lot better. I think they are feeling good of where they are because they are communicating.”
MOODY HONORED AGAIN: Moody, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound native of Twin City, has been named to the 2013 D2Football.com Preseason All-American Team, an honor that comes one month after the senior was named to the preseason Boxtorow All-American Team.
“I’m grateful and honored to be receiving such an award,” Moody said. “I’m looking forward to having a great season and helping bring my team and school a championship this year.
“Without a doubt, I hope to learn from the mistakes I made in the previous season and correct them for this year.”
Moody led the conference in interceptions in 2012 and ranked third in the nation. He also recorded 48 tackles (30 solo), and two pass breakups.
He was named First-Team All-Conference on defense last season and was selected to the 2012 Daktronics South Region Team.
“I have been working really hard for the upcoming season, and I hope it shows on and off the field,” Moody said. “I can’t wait for the season to begin and let my hard work speak for itself.”