By Joe DeLeone
KINGSTON, R.I. – Highlighting Rhode Island's safety contingent this season is one of the most underrated defensive players in CAA Football, senior D.J. Stewart.
The Hartford, Conn. product has been a quiet, but active producer in his time in Kingston. While he has not yet garnered any major accolades, he has finished in the top two on the team in in tackles in back-to-back seasons, leading the Rams with 86 stops in 2017 and then finishing second with 79 tackles last season. Stewart also tracked down passes for five pass break ups in 2017 and has started 22 straight games for Rhode Island, making him the most experienced player of the unit.
Redshirt junior Momodou Mbye - who has played significant time at cornerback - will slide to safety this season. The highly athletic Pawtucket, R.I. native has played in all 22 games over the last two seasons, making 15 starts. He has led the team in pass break ups each of the last two seasons, recording seven in each year. Mbye also has 84 tackles, three interception and four fumble recoveries to his credit.
Also back is junior A.J. Baxter (Waterford Works, N.J.). Baxter is primed and ready to play after primarily hitting the field on special teams in his first two years. During his freshman season, Baxter saw significant playing time on defense. He played in seven games, finishing with eight tackles. In 2017, he contributed in four games, all of which were on special teams.
Adding depth and challenging for playing time are Henry Yianakopolos (Contoocook, N.H.) and J.J. Mainville (Pawtucket, R.I.). Yianakopolos spent last season redshirting and developing, gaining a lot of experience in spring practices. Mainville also redshirted last year after joining the team as a walk on in the spring of 2017. Redshirt freshman Jack Ryan (Winchester, Mass.) is back for his second season in the program.
Already rising up the depth chart is recently-added JUCO product Brian Campbell (Baltimore, Md.). After joining the team in the spring, Campbell saw significant first team reps, but suffered an injury that prevented him from playing in the Spring game. However, he is expected to be ready for training camp. Coming from ASA college, Campbell earned all-conference honors as a sophomore. As a freshman as Nassau Community College he had 35 tackles while earning all-conference recognition there as well. A second newcomer is Cayvian Holmes, a summer signee from Apopka, Fla. The 5-11, 180-pound Homes figures to compete for playing time right away.
Redshirt senior Isaiah Hill (Passaic, N.J.) adds versatility to the defensive backfield. During his time in Kingston, he has lined up at safety, corner and in the slot. After appearing in just three games last season due to injury, Hill received a medical redshirt and returns to the Rams for a fifth season.
The safety position looks formidable in 2018 with Stewart leading the way, but could be even stronger with the young talent that is fighting to play alongside him.
Check GoRhody.com Thursday for a look at the wide receivers on the 2018 roster.