Defensive backs profile: “Legion of Boone” back for more after departure of Duck, Hayes


Senior captain & safety Desmond Franklin (left) takes the field alongside junior offensive lineman Noah Hannon (center) and head coach Eliah Drinkwitz (right) before App State’s 42-7 victory over East Tennessee State on Aug. 31. // Photo courtesy of App State Athletics

The saying “offense wins games; defense wins championships” rings true for the App State football team.

Known as the “Legion of Boone,” after the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning “Legion of Boom,” the Mountaineer’s defensive backs are reckoned with for both Sun Belt and non-conference foes. 

 Last season, they finished No. 4 in the country in points allowed per game with 15.5, set a Sun Belt Conference record of 20 touchdowns allowed, and tied for first in the country with eight passing touchdowns. 

Not only did they have talented players, but they also had a very talented coaching staff, highlighted by safeties coach Greg Gasparato, who was named a 2018 FootballScoop Defensive Backs Coach of the Year.

“I’m just excited to see this group play together,” Gasparato said. “We’ve got some underclassmen that may have played sparingly, but now it’s their time.”

Two key pieces of last year’s defense were defensive backs Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes, who both made names for themselves during the NFL preseason. However, they weren’t the only ones to contribute, as several of last season’s key players take on bigger roles this year.

Safeties Josh Thomas and Desmond Franklin now look to lead an App State defense that is hungry for another Sun Belt Championship.

Both seniors intercepted four passes each last season, and both were named to the preseason watchlist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the top defensive back in college football. 

Zac Thomas was one of three players voted as a permanent captain by teammates. 

“It’s been a great five years here, and I’m just excited for the last one,” Thomas said. “I feel like the guys don’t look up to me, but they watch what I do, and if I’m doing everything right, that’s going to force them to do everything right, as well.”

Other returning defensive backs include junior Kaiden Smith, who earned his first career interception last season against Gardner Webb, and Shemar Jean-Charles, who is App State’s most-experienced corner.