JSU football

JSU quarterback Zerrick Cooper during practice with defensive back Yul Gowdy (7). (Photo by Trent Penny)

JACKSONVILLE — It seems as if everyone with Jacksonville State's football program likes Yul Gowdy.

Head coach John Grass likes Gowdy, a sophomore who starts at cornerback. So does his position coach. The quarterback praises him, and so do the receivers, other defensive backs and other players in the secondary.

Heck, receiver Daniel Byrd even compares notes with Gowdy as the two try to help each other from their viewpoints on opposite sides of the ball.

"Yul is great," Byrd said. "There's not a day that goes by when we're not out there talking."

This coming Saturday, plenty of folks will be talking about Gowdy and his fellow defensive backs as they face one of their biggest challenges of the season. Fourth-ranked Eastern Washington will visit. The Eagles are led by quarterback Eric Barriere, a redshirt junior who stands 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds.

Barriere ranks third in the nation with 733 passing yards through two games. Eastern Washington is fifth nationally in passing offense.

"The quarterback makes them go," Grass said. "They don't have a standout wide receiver. They're all really, really good."

Gowdy is the senior member of the JSU cornerbacks, having started 14 games in his college career. Sophomore Malik Feaster starts at the other cornerback spot, having taken over when Jacquez Payton went down with an injury in the preseason. He's out for the year.

So far, Gowdy has proven himself up to the challenge.

"He's one of the best corners in the nation," Byrd said. "I'll stand on that firmly and say that. He understands the game. He does everything the coach asks him to do. He's getting better and progressing. There's going to be nothing but good things for the next couple of years that he's here."

Grass calls Gowdy "very consistent" and said that he works so hard that sometimes the coaches have to get him to back off.

"He does all the extra stuff," Grass said. "You have to slow him down sometimes in the off-season. He almost overtrains and overworks. We've had some conversations about that. He's the type of guy who'll be out there on the field at 8 or 9 o'clock on the field. He'll be out there early and puts in the extra work."

Gowdy compares Eastern Washington's Barriere to Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals. Murray is only 5-foot-10¼, and like him, Barriere is kind of undersized. Also like Murray, Barriere is quick with a strong arm.

Barriere was named FCS preseason player of the year by FCS Nation. HERO Sports named Barriere preseason first-team All-American.

He took over for the last 10 games last year after the original EWU starter was hurt. Barriere led the Eagles to runner-up in the FCS.

The soft-spoken Gowdy downplays his role in the game and the defense. Instead, he has focused on the defense as a whole.

"It's going to be great for us," Gowdy said. "They got to the championship last year and they always play at a high level."

If it's any comfort, Gowdy and the JSU defense already have faced a productive passing offense already this year — their own. The Gamecocks are second in the FCS in passing yards and Zerrick Cooper is the FCS passing yardage leader.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.