BOCA RATON – FAU cornerbacks Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley play on opposite sides of the field, but their hometown connection creates a competition that transcends the turf between them.
Lewis’ and Tooley’s standout play on the outside allows first-year defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro to dial up pressure with little risk of giving up big passing plays.
Having two shutdown boundary corners makes opposing quarterbacks think twice before getting rid of the ball; that moment of hesitation is music to the FAU defensive line’s ears.
“It is real cool because if the quarterback can sit out there and pat the ball we can go to work.” defensive tackle Steven Leggett said.
Coach Lane Kiffin views the secondary as the strength of the defense; adding that his corners’ ability to play man-to-man coverage is vital to FAU’s schematic versatility on defense. Lewis and Tooley are unafraid of being left alone in one-on-one situations – in fact they embrace Pecoraro’s attacking mentality on defense.
“That is what we want,” Tooley said. “That equals more picks for us.”
Tooley, a junior, and Lewis, a senior, share a similar skill set; they both excel in off man coverage, displaying the explosive lateral quickness needed to break up quick throws and closing speed to track down passes on vertical routes.
The two corners are definitely not short on confidence, as both are quick to celebrate at the offense’s expense every time they make a play in practice. Tooley likes to get in the head of opposing receivers by constantly reminding them ‘this play is mine’.
Separated by only 23 miles while attending high school in the Orlando area, Tooley and Lewis knew each other before becoming college teammates, and the chemistry they have built over the years has helped mold them into the players they are today.
“We get to compete against each other and see who makes the better plays.” said Lewis, an All-Conference USA selection last season.
It is fitting that the competition between Tooley and Lewis extended to the stat sheet, as both picked off four passes last season. While Lewis declined to say who would gain the edge in interceptions in 2018, Tooley seemed confident with his choice.
“You know that is my boy but I am pretty much more of a ball hawk than him.” Tooley said of Lewis. “You know that is my boy, but it is going to be me.”
Both Lewis and Tooley are more comfortable in their second season under Kiffin, and said their advanced familiarity of the defense will be a difference maker this season; Tooley added he can now predict where the ball is going before the opposing quarterback lets it go.
Tooley and Lewis hold each other accountable and set a standard of excellence for each other that stretches beyond themselves to their entire unit.
“We look up to each other and push each other to be dominant.” Tooley said.