marque collins at nau weber state 100618

Weber State freshman defensive back Marque Collins runs after intercepting a ball against Northern Arizona on Oct. 6, 2018, in Flagstaff, Ariz.

OGDEN — Weber State’s defense has forced 18 turnovers in five games this season. It’s the second-highest mark overall nationally. At 3.6 turnovers forced per contest, it’s the highest per-game mark in the country.

The Wildcats defensive backs are key to that effort and one player from the Bay Area brought California police terminology with him to Ogden to serve as the secondary’s mantra.

“The safeties, they call themselves 211 — which means 211 in progress, which is a robbery,” safeties coach Joe Dale explained. “That’s our mantra, that’s how we go about going to get the ball and getting takeaways ... we do it on the field, go take the ball, that’s what we’re robbing.”

Senior safety Jawian Harrison says he brought that with him from his high school basketball team in El Cerrito, California, which prided itself in defense. That effort took focus in last week’s game at Northern Arizona when the defense forced five fumbles, recovering four — two forced and three recovered by defensive backs — while defensive backs also picked off two passes.

“It’s definitely a competition,” Harrison said. “Before the game, I’ll go to (linebackers) LeGrand Toia and Landon Stice and tell them ‘look, I’m going to be better than you today. I’m going to be the best player out here today. So y’all better come with me or y’all are getting left.’

“But we’re all in it together. We for sure want turnovers. The team who wins the turnover battle usually wins the game so we try to get as many as we can.”

Every game, it seems like a new player from the secondary steps up to make high-impact plays.

Against South Dakota, it was Parker Preator who rocked the quarterback and forced a fumble that Stice picked up and ran in for a score.

Last week at Northern Arizona, sophomore Preston Smith scooped up a fumble forced by defensive lineman Jayden Palauni and ran it 86 yards for a touchdown.

Smith and freshman Marque Collins each also grabbed their first interceptions of the season in that game, both near the end zone to turn away NAU drives. Collins may have returned his 100 yards for a touchdown if not for an inadvertent referee whistle, nearly joining Smith with a defensive score.

Harrison’s fellow senior from El Cerrito, Keilan Benjamin, has two interceptions and a forced and recovered fumble to his name.

Jeremy Maxwell has an interception to his name. Harrison himself has recovered two fumbles and junior Trey Hoskins has recovered one.

“To have guys on the field who have the same mindset as us coaches, knowing how important getting takeaways is ... that’s what they want to do,” Dale said. “They’re opportunistic and they feed off each other. They’re ballhawks.”

The secondary unit, which usually has four or five players on the field at a time, has gone eight or nine players deep this season. That’s about hunger and trust.

“Each player in the secondary is hungry for success. Nobody in our group wants to be average. Everybody holds themselves to a high standard,” Harrison said.

Dale added: “The consistency, the way they prepare ... I know they all want to be great so I don’t doubt their ability or their want-to. I know any guy I put out there, they want what’s best for the team and they want to perform well for themselves. Just the way they prepare and attack practice each day gives me trust that I can count on them at any given moment.”

The Wildcats take on a pass-aggressive Eastern Washington team at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I feel like with our group, the better opponents we play, the better way play,” Harrison said. “The fact that they’re a top four team in the country, it’s more of being ready and up for the challenge. We’re prepared and ready to go.”

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net, follow him on Twitter @bhein3 and at facebook.com/brettheinwrites.

Brett Hein is the sports editor and covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner.

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