When the opposing offense takes the field, free safety Geoff Dunham ’12 has some tough decisions to make. Tasked with predicting the team’s play in a matter of seconds, Dunham will call the signals for the secondary this year as he helps lead a crop of talented young cornerbacks this season as the team looks to improve on last year’s sixth-place Ivy League rating in pass defense. He sat down with the News to talk about defending Yale’s talented offense in practice, his fumble return for a touchdown last season against Princeton and the team’s mentality heading into the season.
Q You have been practicing for almost two weeks now. How is the defense looking?
A We look good. We’re definitely a cohesive unit this early on in the year. We have a lot of guys that have had game experience. Maybe they weren’t starting last year, but they have been substituted in for a few plays on some important drives. So we do have a lot of guys with good experience.
Q When it comes to experience, you’re one of the most battle-tested veterans in the secondary. What does that mean for your role on the defense?
A Since I’ve been around this system, I know most of the calls in and out. That’s helpful when you’re behind everybody, because you can see who is out of place, you can correct them, you can just get the defense where we’re playing one single coverage and one play and hopefully you can prevent a mistake.
Q The defense thrived when it forced mistakes last season — for example, Chris Stanley ’11 saved your win over Dartmouth with two forced fourth-quarter turnovers. Is aggressiveness a hallmark of your game?
Q You did just that when you ran a fumble back for a touchdown against Princeton. Should we expect another one of those this season?
A Hopefully. I hope I’ll have some more of those.
Q There are some up-and-coming cornerbacks who should see some time this season, including Colin Bibb ’13 and Kurt Stottlemyer ’13. What will they do for the team?
A We have a group of good young corners and also Dawson Halliday ’12, a senior who will be seeing some time in there too. A lot of them have game experience. They’re very quick, they’re savvy and it’s good to have that depth, especially at corner, which is probably our defense’s most important position. We probably put the most pressure on our corners of all the guys in our defense. So we’ve lucked out to have four guys who can play the position really well.
Q Why is there such pressure on the cornerbacks on the team?
A Because we are such an aggressive defense, we might be committing a large number of players inside the box to prevent the run and put pressure on the quarterback. That puts a lot of pressure on the secondary, especially since our safeties also tend to be pretty aggressive.
Q What’s the team’s mentality right now?
A Just not stopping, continuing to learn and to buy into the system. We have another year under Coach Williams’ system to take that mentality and to run with it even more. All the older guys know what to expect. This freshman group coming in, our job was to show them the ropes and to let them know that they can contribute right away if they desire. We just don’t want to stop, we want to keep this train rolling.
Q Is there a connection between that mentality and the system the team has adopted under [head coach] Tom Williams?
A Definitely. He brings kind of a professional style to this program, and he has coached the best — I mean he came from the NFL. He has those same expectations for us as a college football program. He knows how to be excellent and how to be great and he has instilled that into our program.
Q The team has new shirts that say, “Armed and Dangerous,” across the back. Are those a Williams creation?
A Last year we had shirts that said, “Arm Yourself.” That kind of lets our opposition know that they better be ready for us when we play them. This year sort of adds on to that, where it says we’re armed and dangerous, we’re ready, we’re going to the next level, we’ve had another year on our belts and we’ll be ready.
Q Last year, that season opener with Georgetown was a crazy game that ended on the last play. And the team went on to play many more nailbiters like it. Is this a team that thrives on that kind of pressure?
A I think that game reflects our team mentality. We go into a game expecting to win, and we never give up. We were down going into the final moments of that game and we expected to win, we expected to successfully run the quarterback sneak. That’s just what Coach Williams has brought to our program: that expectancy to win.
Q Does that expectancy mean you think you guys can win it all this year?
A Yeah, I think we have the tools to win. We just have to go out and do it.
Q Speaking of offense, you’ve been defending against them in practice. How do they look?
A They look great. They’ve been clicking really well this preseason. We have a lot of threats on offense this year. You have [wide receiver] Chris Smith ’13 coming back, and we have a bunch of other dangerous quick receivers out there. Then there’s [quarterback] Patrick Witt ’12, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, coming back, and an arsenal of great running backs too. We’re looking pretty stacked.
Q Have you had the pleasure of taking those receivers on in practice?
A Yes, they are challenging to guard. But I think I can hold my own.