KEARNEY — Entering preseason camp, University of Nebraska at Kearney’s biggest position uncertainty was at cornerback.
The Lopers lost their two starting cornerbacks from last season and welcomed two junior college cornerbacks to the team this preseason.
The Lopers hoped Terrell Williams and David Tolentino would slide right into those starting spots. Although both have grasped the defensive scheme and performed well throughout preseason practices, senior Malik Ransom has been the biggest surprise.
Ransom, a redshirt senior, joined the program last fall after two years at the junior college level. He only played in two games for the Lopers, though, as he dealt with a left ankle injury last season. He is now healthy and making a strong impression on the coaching staff, vying for one of the starting cornerback spots.
“Just being healthy has helped me be more confident in everything I’m doing,” Ransom said. “When you get injured or there’s something that’s bothering you, you can be a little iffy on things. But I’ve been confident with everything, studying film and just flying around.”
Ransom spent his first two years of college football playing in his home state of California for San Joaquin Delta College.
As a sophomore in 2017, Ransom recorded 54 tackles and four pass breakups in 10 games. His experience and athleticism caused the Lopers to pursue Ransom as a junior college transfer.
Ransom signed with the Lopers over other opportunities, as he appreciated the family-like atmosphere and culture head coach Josh Lynn was building at UNK.
Once he arrived for preseason camp last year, Ransom didn’t have much time to vie for playing time, as he sprained his ankle before the season began.
With two senior cornerbacks starting for the Lopers last season, earning playing time as a backup was difficult and, with the injury, Ransom never reached his full potential. He played in two games and recorded two tackles.
Ransom showed his ability in April’s spring game, tallying a team-high four tackles. He spent the offseason improving his technique and conditioning to prepare for this season.
“He’s a lot more mature,” Lynn said. “He’s a lot more comfortable with our defensive system. He’s hungry. He sat out all that time, and he’s ready to play some football.”
Last season, Famous McKinnon and Malik Webb started for the Lopers at cornerback. Both graduated, creating two holes for the Lopers in their secondary. It prompted the coaching staff to look for experienced options at the junior college level with mostly inexperienced younger players on their roster.
Williams and Tolentino provided the Lopers with that experience and athleticism. Both also have two years of eligibility.
Ransom, Williams, Tolentino and redshirt freshman Armani Webster have been the Lopers’ top cornerbacks this preseason. All four will play regularly, regardless of who the starters are against Missouri Southern in the first game of the season Sept. 5.
“All of them have done a great job,” Lynn said. “I wouldn’t have any problem starting any one of the four. They have all done a good job. They’ve worked hard and are disciplined. Excited about that position.”
Redshirt junior Blake Bubak and redshirt senior Dallas Vaughn started at the two safety spots last year and are the projected starters this season. Redshirt senior Kevin Wilson and redshirt freshman Darius Swanson are the top backups.
This season, the defensive back group hopes to force more interceptions after ranking last in the MIAA with four interceptions a year ago.
Capitalizing on opportunities and being in the right position are two areas the coaching staff has preached to the defensive back group this preseason, Lynn said.
“We need to be more of playmakers and ball hawks and just fly to the ball,” Ransom said. “If we are in our positions, then we are going to get interceptions.”