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Oct. 28, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – David Amerson laughed when asked if he considers himself a “film junkie.”
“I guess you could call it that,” he said.
But NC State’s sophomore cornerback is no laughing matter to Wolfpack opponents. He leads all FBS teams with eight interceptions (an average of 1.14 per game, which is how the NCAA ranks them).
Amerson started nine games as a true freshman for the Pack last season. He didn’t intercept any passes, but he learned many lessons, one in particular.
“This year I really understand how (valuable) watching film is,” he explained, “so I can recognize routes and know receivers’ tendencies and what they like to do in certain situations. It allows me to play fast and be out there confident and make plays.
“Last year a lot of the time I was just out there playing with natural ability. Now I really understand how important knowledge of the game is and understanding the scheme of the defense.”
NC State coach Tom O’Brien said film study is important to defensive backs. They can learn how receivers come off the ball in certain formations and what a receiver’s patterns are. He said Amerson will only get better the more he anticipates those things.
“He's become much more (conscientious) in the film study room,” O’Brien said. “He's got good anticipation. He got burned a couple times early in the season on a double move, but he's worked hard not to make that happen because he is so aggressive. All those – the little things and the study off the field – are coming into play right now for him.”
Another important lesson Amerson took from his freshman season was not carrying one play over to the next, especially if you’ve just gotten beat by a receiver.
“If you don’t have a short memory it’s like you’re in quicksand out there,” he said. “One bad thing can lead to turn into another bad play and then you’re having your worst game ever. So if I get beat I go on to the next play and try to make up for it. I don’t think about it too much; just erase it from my memory.”
At Dudley High School in Greensboro, Amerson roamed the secondary as a safety, making six interceptions as a junior and nine as a senior. Because he was playing deep, he had time to make adjustments before receivers were on him. When he did play cornerback, it was in man-to-man coverage.
In college, Amerson was put at corner right away, learning zone coverages and reading things more quickly because he was much closer to the receiver.
“You’ve definitely got to be more fundamentally sound at corner and you’ve got to be quicker,” he said. “Any little mistake will get you beat, so you’ve got to pay attention to every little detail.”
Amerson was familiar with the State’s defense from attending summer camps, and O’Brien and the coaching staff determined he had to necessary skills to be a corner.
“He has great instincts and I think he has very good ability,” the coach said. “He's a kid that has only been playing with us for two years, so … he's learned it from the ground up. From day one he's come in and been coached to do what we want to do. “So what he played in high school was not very significant for us one way or another since we had him in camp. He has quick feet, he has great hands, he has good instincts. He's a student of the game.”
There was one more change from Amerson’s freshman season. Last year he played the “boundary corner,” which is the shorter side of the field where the defender can use the sideline to help him. This season he’s the “field corner,” playing the wider side.
“In the field corner, it’s more like being on an island,” he said. “It’s certainly a lot more space compared to the boundary. Field corner puts me in a position to make plays. I like it so far.”
Who wouldn’t like a position where you’ve made eight interceptions through seven games and three times you’ve made two picks in a game? Not that Amerson went into this season with the goal of leading the nation.
“I was expecting to have a great year,” he said. “This season is kind of like a reward for putting in so much hard work in the off-season. But I didn’t expect this much so fast.”
The Pack plays at Florida State Saturday and the Seminoles are keenly aware of Amerson’s ability.
“Oh, yes, you always have to know who the great players are, whether he's a pass rusher or cover guy or whatever,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. “And when the ball is around him, he has great ball skills, he adjusts, he breaks on the ball. There's no doubt you definitely have to be aware of where he's at and what he's doing at all times.”
Fisher said the 6-foot-3, 194-pound Amerson plays with his eyes very well, understands where the ball is going and factors like down and distance.
“He can play man (coverage) when he has to,” Fisher said, “and he uses that size advantage and his leverage and gets his body in position and breaks on that football extremely well.”
Naturally, Amerson has studied film on the Seminoles. He is impressed by the speed of their receivers and backs.
“They run a lot of speed cuts so it makes it harder for the DB to read,” he said. “I’ll definitely have to be on top of my game and have my eyes in the right places because they like to run a lot of double moves and other things to confuse you.”
Last Saturday NC State beat Virginia on the road, earning its first ACC win. At 1-2 in the league and 4-3 overall, the Pack believes it is still in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title, although it would likely have to win out from here to make it.
“I feel like we have some momentum going into the next five games and we’ll try to make a run for the ACC (Championship),” Amerson said. “I think everyone on the team believes we can do it and I certainly believe we can do it.
“If all of us just go out there doing what we’ve been doing since we were small – just play ball. That’s all there really is to it. You put in the hard work during the week and it can pay off on Saturday.”
Amerson has already tied State’s record for interceptions in a season, set in 1938, and he has a chance to equal or surpass the ACC record of 11 in a season, set by North Carolina’s Dre Bly in 1996.
As good as Amerson has been, he knows there’s room for improvement.
“I’d like to improve the consistency of my technique,” he said. “I certainly want to get stronger, faster, and get way more knowledge of the game. The more you know what the receiver is going to do; it allows you to play fast and a lot of confidence.”
And if that means more time watching film, State’s “film junkie” is ready.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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