AUBURN – It’s not like Anthony D’Angelo didn’t see Derrick Moncrief coming, as the Prattville native was running straight at the Hinds (Miss.) Community College quarterback.
D’Angelo tried to protect himself, and the ball, but Moncrief charged in and lowered a bone-crunching right shoulder that dropped D’Angelo square on his back and sent the ball flying in the opposite direction, landing 7 yards away where it was recovered by one of Moncrief’s Mississippi Gulf Coast teammates.
“We start getting some licks in the secondary like that,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told a crowd of fans in Birmingham he showed the highlight reel play in early March, “it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Moncrief called the thunderous blow, which came on Sept. 13, 2012, “probably one of my hardest hits.”
That’s saying something for the 6-foot-2, 218-pound safety who thrives on being a physical defender.
“You can’t account for a safety being physical” Moncrief said. “You rarely see that nowadays.”
Junior college transfer are expected to make immediate impacts and Moncrief is no different. Just as his former MGC teammate D’haquille Williams is expected to be a major component to Auburn’s offense this fall, Moncrief is in line to earn the starting boundary safety job and be a prominent member of the Tigers secondary.
“He’s a big body that can move and he’s focused and he wants to be good,” Auburn safeties coach Charlie Harbison said. “When you got them qualities and a guy that don’t care about who gets the credit, that learns from the other guys and wants to get good, you got something special.”
Auburn’s pass defense was woeful last season and the addition of Moncrief, who had 66 tackles and three interceptions over two seasons at MGC, coupled with the return of Josh Holsey and some added depth, should help a group stretched to the brink of viable personnel last season.
Moncrief is bringing more than brute force to the defense though.
“I’m going to add my leadership and my tackling ability and my coverage skills for big tight ends and things of that sort,” he said. “Kind of go on the moment, whatever (teammates) need to get them juiced up. I’m always going to be juiced up and I just want to make people around me better.”
Tigers middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy knows a thing or two about delivering hard hits. He led Auburn in tackles (75) last season and it was McKinzy’s hit that forced Peyton Barber to fumble, which was recovered by Moncrief, on A-Day.
McKinzy loves the intensity Moncrief brings to the field.
“He's the type of player who doesn't want the interception,” McKinzy said. “He wants the hit. I like players who play with a lot of emotion, and he plays with a lot of emotion.”
Moncrief has learned he needs to stay on the right side of the fine emotional line.
Harbison has been teaching him to “control the temper and control your poise,” as well as playing technique.
“You don’t want to get too high or too low in a game because it can change the whole momentum of a team or aspect of the game,” Moncrief said. “I want to keep it even keel at all times.”
Holsey, who has moved back to boundary corner after starting the first six games of last season at boundary safety before tearing his ACL, called Moncrief “one of the good ones to get this defense where it need to be at boundary safety.”
Having to spend two years in the junior college ranks helped Moncrief mature on and off the field. He said grades are what kept him from qualifying at an FBS program – he was previously committed to Southern Mississippi – two years ago.
“I figured out the process that grades were important, but back then they weren’t important to me,” Moncrief said. “On the field, I learned be smarter with the coverages and things like that. Off the field, I grew up from a boy to a man from Prattville, Alabama. I learned a lot about myself being on my own.”
Field safety Jermaine Whitehead has spent a lot time with Moncrief, both on the field at practice and off the field in the film room, to prepare for the season.
The leader of the secondary, Whitehead’s trying to instill the knowledge he’s gained over 27 career starts into Moncrief.
“He trusts the system (and he's picked things up) a lot faster than what I expected him to,” Whitehead said. “He came in with a player's mentality that he wanted to learn and he wanted to have more knowledge about the game.
“We've been watching film from last year and I was telling him how it felt to be in some of those situations and how you can't let a guy cross your face, how you've got to be patient. That's stuff you really don't get just going through the motions. He's going to (understand) that as the season goes on.”
With 17 days to kickoff, Moncrief is getting increasingly excited to finally take the field, reap the rewards of his hard work this offseason, and deliver his next big hit.
“I really can’t tell you what the feeling is going to be but I’m really excited,” he said. “I kind of got the goosebumps right now. I’m ready to rock and roll and it’s just a dream come true.”