BELTON — Titus Dunk is all set to play in his 12th game and make the ninth start of his young college career. He has produced some impressive numbers in his first season at Mary Hardin-Baylor, but one thing is missing from his stat sheet.
And in the eyes of the freshman cornerback and his defensive teammates, it’s a somewhat glaring omission.
“I’m waiting on my interception. I’m the only guy in the secondary without one,” Dunk said. “Every time we’re in warm-ups, guys are like, ‘Titus, when are going to get an interception?’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’m trying to get it today.’”
Dunk’s next opportunity to snare his first college interception comes at noon Saturday, when No. 1 UMHB (12-0) hosts No. 10 Wisconsin-Whitewater (11-1) in an NCAA Division III national quarterfinal game at Crusader Stadium.
As part of a ball-hawking defense that leads the country with 39 takeaways, Dunk has recovered a fumble and broken up four passes. He hasn’t had one stick in his hands yet, but he knows his time will come.
“I’m getting better at reading the receiver,” he said. “There’s a lot of things he does that determine what you do, and I’ve learned that this year.”
It is after all only the second season Dunk has played on the defensive side of the ball. After spending his years as a youth player and the first three seasons of his high school career on offense — primarily as a receiver — Dunk made the move to defense as a senior at Round Rock.
Needless to say, he felt he had some catching up to do.
“Everything about fall camp was a lot faster than high school,” he said. “I don’t mind studying film and stuff. The hard part was taking what you learn while sitting in a desk and applying it when you get on the field. That’s what held me back in fall camp. Taking a step back and seeing how the older guys do it really helped me. It helped me understand what I needed to do.
“I had to learn all of the techniques of a corner and how to read a receiver. It was really new to me. Once I got used to it, though, it became like second nature to me.”
Standing 5-feet-11 but only 170 pounds, Dunk has held his own as a freshman starter, making 15 tackles — 2½ for losses — to go with his pass defense.
He did enough early in the season to earn a starting job and has played well enough since to convince the coaching staff to leave him there.
“I was worried about his physicality because he’s a tall kid who doesn’t have a lot of mass yet. But he’s bony tough, and he’s a competitor who loves to play the game,” Crusaders defensive coordinator Larry Harmon said. “I’ve been very pleased with how hard he works. He comes to practice every day to get better, and he’s just tougher than you think he’d be. He has a lot of fight in him.
“He’s also very intelligent and has great game instincts. He doesn’t say much, but he’s always listening. He just listens first and talks second. God gave you two ears and just one mouth for a reason.”
With or without an interception to his credit, Dunk’s goal is to still be playing come next week. He knows he has three more seasons ahead of him to pad the stat sheet. For now, his focus is on slowing down the Warhawks’ offense.
“I came into the program expecting to go far every year because this program is used to doing that,” he said. “I know this (matchup with UW-Whitewater) is a blood-deep rivalry. I’m trying to raise my game to compete against these guys. I’m excited for it.”