BOONE — Appalachian State’s defense didn’t need much rebuilding from the 2018 season.
The Mountaineers’ secondary had some holes to plug. Both of Appalachian State’s cornerbacks, Clifton Duck and Tae Hayes, did not return. Hayes used up his eligibility and Duck declared himself eligible for the NFL draft following his junior season.
One of the new cornerbacks who took Hayes’ place was a player similar to Duck in Shaun Jolly. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Jolly is similar to Duck in size and similar when it comes to getting to the football.
Duck, who helped recruit Jolly, was also an early mentor to the redshirt sophomore. Duck was the host player who Jolly stayed with on his official visit while being recruited out of Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga.
“Ever since then we’ve been close,” Jolly said.
Duck made a name for himself by intercepting five passes his freshman year. He was named first-team All-Sun Belt Conference, the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year and was on the USA Today’s Freshman All-America team.
Jolly, a self-described football junkie, has not been named to any post-season teams, but his resume is already similar to Duck’s. Jolly has intercepted five passes this season, two that he has returned for touchdowns. His first pick-six was late in the game in a 56-37 win against Coastal Carolina.
He returned a pick-six against Georgia State in the Mountaineers’ 56-27 win over the Panthers in Atlanta. On the next Georgia State possession, Jolly intercepted his second pass of the game. He did not return it for a touchdown, but set up a score with it to tie the game 21-21.
App State was behind 21-7 before his pick-six, and Jolly knew the Mountaineers needed a spark.
“As a defense, we’re always thinking that we have to get off the field quick,” he said. “You don’t want to be out there for a long time. As a defense when you’re out there for a long time, that means their offense is sustaining a long drive. You never want that as a defense, so we’re wanting a quick three-and-out, or we’re looking for a big play and getting off the field.”
And just what is it like for a defensive player, such as Jolly, to score a touchdown?
“Oh, it’s great,” he said. “I haven’t really been there that much since high school, but I’ve been there now. I want to keep them going.”
Jolly was promoted to starting cornerback this year, but he’s on the side of the field that Hayes used to roam. Jolly said the year he redshirted helped him learn the App State defense, which was led by then-defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, who helped recruit Jolly to App State.
Jolly focused on learning the playbook during his redshirt year and said once he learned the schemes, the game started to be easier to play.
Jolly said the defense didn’t change that much under current defensive coordinator Ted Roof or cornerbacks coach Charlie Harbison. He said the terminology was different, but the techniques being taught to play cornerback didn’t change.
“I just make sure I’m focused on my technique,” Jolly said. “Coach Harbison preaches all the time — technique first. Your technique is going to put you in position to make a play. Once you’re in position to make a play, it’s all you from there.”
Jolly is also a regular in the film room. He said studying film on opponents can be a big help is getting in the right position to make a play on a pass.
He said his second interception against Georgia State was a result of film study. He recognized the formation and was able to read the route as it developed. That allowed him to jump the route and intercept the pass.
“There is having instinct, but it also comes with reading the person I’m covering and the quarterback’s eyes,” Jolly said. “As soon as he loads it up, that’s when you can slow your (back) pedal down and read the route.”
He also didn’t hesitate to ask Duck or Hayes questions about the position.
“You know they had the experience, so just ask them about little things here and there,” Jolly said.
Defending passes isn’t the only thing expected of cornerbacks. They are also expected to stop the run, even if it means taking on 300-pound pulling guards.
If Jolly has to, sometimes, it means that Jolly has to cut the guards down and create a pile that gets in the way of the play. It’s the rest of the defense’s job to make the tackle.
Sometimes, he just has to get around the linemen and get to the running back on his own.
“I mostly just try to get around,” he said. “When the play is snapped, just follow your instinct. If you see a guy that big coming at you, I’m always looking to get out of the way, get around and get back on top of them.”
There are other ways Jolly can affect a game. He blocked a punt against Charlotte this year.
Jolly also returned punts in high school and is willing to do it at App State.
“Hopefully they’ll put me back there,” Jolly said.