GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The old saying goes that one is the loneliest number, but Sioux safety Erik Mersereau (Port Washington, Wis.) is embracing the fact he is the only senior among a dozen defensive backs in spring camp for UND.
"The younger guys all kind of came in together, so they are real tight, sometimes I feel like the odd one out," Mersereau said. "But, it's a family when we're all together so much in the meeting room and we'll continue to grow closer."
Mersereau has liked what he has seen out of the young guys on the field as well. "Obviously, we are young group as everyone knows, but I've been really impressed with the younger kids. We are going to need them (in 2012)."
That is not only the adjustment Mersereau and his fellow defensive backs are making this spring as Benny Boyd has taken over coaching the entire secondary. Boyd spent his first year as the cornerbacks coach in 2011 before inheriting the full scope of defensive backs after John Kelling took the defensive coordinator post at the University of Mary.
"It's been good to build that continuinity between the safeties and corners," Boyd said. "I think having one voice for that unit has been good. The safeties are having to adjust to my style, which is a little more in your face, but, I have been pleased with how they have responded to the challenges I have put before them."
Mersereau, who was seventh on the team with 29 tackles in 2011, has also embraced his new role as a leader of the secondary.
"He has risen to the challenge of having a leadership role thrust on him," Boyd added. "I have put a lot of pressure on him to lead by example on and off the field and he is growing into that role nicely."
Mersereau will likely be flanked by sophomore Baylee Carr (Hazen, N.D.) as the two will be counted on to replace a pair of senior starters at the free and strong safety spots. They both played in all 11 games last season and gained plenty of experience to help prepare for a full Big Sky Conference slate that will waiting on them in the fall.
The safeties behind them will be green as redshirts B.J. Fifita (Lawndale, Calif.), Dayo Idowu (Woodbury, Minn.) and Dillon Olson (Grygla, Minn.) along with Swedish newcomer William James (Sollentuna, Sweden) are battling for reserve duty.
"Right now, it's just to continually make sure they know where they are supposed to go," Boyd said. "That sounds simple, but in this position I think your eyes fail you first. We have spent a lot of time on where you eyes should go pre-and-post snap.
"My thought with that is if you know where you should be you can get their faster. The offense is going to give you an indicator, but we have to make our reads and figure it out."
Boyd has a little more depth and experience to work with at the position he coached last year. Sophomore Daryl Brown was a College Sports Journal All-Freshman team honoree after registering 30 tackles and a team-leading two interceptions in 2011.
"Daryl has had a great spring. He is playing like a veteran," Boyd said. "He is a very quiet young man, but his leadership is definitely in his actions."
Two Jacksonville, Fla. natives have also accrued plenty of experience at the position in their first two seasons on the field. Chavon Mackey and Chris Hall both have started games during their careers and played in more than 20 games entering their junior campaigns.
"Both Chavon and Chris have done some good things this spring," Boyd said. "They both have a lot of experience and that even helps a guy like Daryl Brown, who is still young."
There are a trio of redshirt freshmen also vying to earn a spot in the rotation behind the veteran cornerbacks. Dwayne Brown (Fontana, Calif.) impressed enough in fall camp to almost have his redshirt pulled a season ago, but has been out this spring with an injury.
That has opened the door for Chris Brown (Culver City, Calif.) and Rumeal Harris (Eden Prairie, Minn.) to get plenty of reps.
As for youngsters impressing their position coach, two have stood out midway through the spring practices. "B.J. Fifita continually shows up around the ball and is making plays," Boyd said. "He is constantly making plays and Rumeal Harris has really impressed the coaching staff this spring. Their play has not been mistake free, but both have really played well."
Here is a breakdown of the defensive backs in spring drills.
4 Daryl Brown, So. - 30 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 pass breakups
7 Dwayne Brown, RFr. - Redshirted (not participating in spring drills)
9 Dillon Olson, RFr. - Redshirted
10 Rumeal Harris, RFr. - Redshirted
16 B.J. Fifita, RFr. - Redshirted
17 Chavon Mackey, Jr. - 23 tackles, 4 pass breakups
26 Chris Hall, Jr. - 14 tackles, 2 pass breakups
29 Chris Brown, RFr. - Redshirted
31 Dayo Idowu, RFr. - Redshirted
33 Erik Mersereau, Sr. - 29 tackles, 1 INT, 2 pass breakups
40 Baylee Carr, So. - 14 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 2 forced fumbles
42 William James, So. - Newcomer
Practice Notes: "Short and sweet and to the point," was how how head coach Chris Mussman summed up Friday's practice at Memorial Stadium ... Mother Nature was the primary culprit for the abbreviated practice that lasted less than an hour ... The team eliminated some individual and special teams work from the session and pushed some two-minute drills and goalline situations to the end of Saturday's scrimmage ... Offensive coordinator Greg Breitbach said his unit had a good day, but the third-and-medium situations could have been a little better ... He added the focus is really on the second scrimmage, which is scheduled for a 10:45 a.m. start on Saturday ... Jake Miller (Bismarck, N.D.) and Jer Garman (Marion, Iowa) were both singled out for having some nice runs during an 11-on-11 team run period ... Senior Braden Hanson (Charlotte, N.C.) connected twice with junior Greg Hardin (Bellevue, Neb.) on deep post routes as a steady rain fell throughout the practice ... Mussman said the team plans to run around 70 plays again like they did for the first scrimmage that was held last Saturday ... Season tickets are available for the 2012 season, which will be the first in the Big Sky Conference ... To reserve your seats now, call 701.777.4582 or visiting FightingSioux.com.