In pickup football games, the position of safety is both glorified and unfairly maligned. Usually when someone yells “I’ll play safety” in those circumstances they just mean they will roam around and do what they please on defense. Sometimes that is great, as you want one of your best defenders back there making adjustments, but other times it can be a lazy choice by your friend Steve to avoid having to feel much responsibility for the action near the line. Damnit, Steve!
In one of the countless ways pickup football is nothing like the collegiate game, safeties are often some of the best defenders on the field and nominally the last line of defense. Some play like additional corner backs, others skirt the line between defensive back and linebacker and others play a position all their own. The following players fall into those categories, as they are doing more than just ranging around but actively improving the defense from back to front.
Honorable Mention: Adarius Pickett (UCLA), Javon Hagan (Ohio), Sean Williams (Navy)
Kyle Gibson (UCF)
Gibson erupted during UCF’s perfect 2017 season. After being a part-time player in his first two seasons, the 6’0”, 184-pound defensive back set a slew of personal bests as a junior. These included tackles (64) and interceptions (4), the latter of which tied for the fourth-most in the American Athletic Conference. He had a relatively quiet game against Cincinnati, finishing with four tackles, but he had plenty of games where opposing offenses found him completely impossible to avoid. That’s why he ended the year on the All-AAC first team. He could very well make a return visit in his senior campaign.
Mikial Onu (SMU)
SMU already has the best cornerback that the Bearcats will face, so having one of the better safeties is just unfair. Unfortunately for UC, and every other team that faces the Mustangs, Onu is just that. Much like Gibson, he broke onto the scene in a major way in 2017, compiling 105 tackles, along with seven passes defended and two picks. He had four games with at least 10 tackles, including each of the final two contests when he combined to create 22 solo tackles. What’s even more impressive is that Onu was just a sophomore last year so he could potentially get better. That quivering you hear is coming from every offense in the AAC.
Delvon Randall (Temple)
It really couldn’t have been anyone else. Randall has been one of the best safeties in the AAC (and the nation as a whole) for each of the last two seasons. He had four interceptions last year, which was the same number he had in 2016. On top of remaining constant in that regard, he improved as a tackler (80 compared to 65) and maintained his position as one of the better players in pursuit, with 6.5 tackles for loss. He had 6.0 in 2016. A Pittsburgh native, Randall crushed Notre Dame in the 2017 season opener (11 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and just kept up that pace the rest of the year, culminating in a first-team All-AAC honor. Expect more of the same in 2018, including UC’s showdown with Temple on Oct. 20.