DEFENSIVE QUARTERBACKS: Senior safeties Valentine, Christensen anchor Bemidji State defensive unit
BEMIDJI — At this point, Scott Christensen and Dylan Valentine barely have to think about where they need to be when they take the field for the Bemidji State defense.
“We’ve been playing together for three years and now we’re at the point where it’s easy back there,” said Valentine, one-half of BSU’s sensational safety tandem. “We don’t have to do as much thinking and we can just play.”
It’s just as well, since not having to think about themselves frees up their minds to direct traffic for the rest of their nine defensive teammates.
“We know what each other is doing every time,” Christensen said. “We know what we have to do.”
“We have to tell everyone what to do,” Valentine added. ”That’s where it starts. We come out, the offense breaks and it starts out with us. We have to recognize all that stuff.”
Valentine, a senior from Temecula, Calif., and Christensen, a senior from Stockbridge, Ga., are entering their third year as starters.
They’re also co-captains this year who stepped up to lead a strong defense in 2013. Christensen, the run-stop specialist, had a team-high 95 tackles and led all NSIC defensive backs while Valentine, the converted cornerback, had a career-high 41 tackles, four pass break-ups and an interception.
BSU defensive coordinator and main defensive backs coach Rich Jahner thinks they may be the best safety pairings in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
“To have these two guys take complete command back there and, just like the quarterbacks of the defense that they are, they control everything,” Jahner said. “They know the checks and they’re very vocal about it. If those two can stay healthy I think they’ll be as good a tandem as there is in the league.”
Growing into the positions
As preposterous as it might seem now, Christensen and Valentine’s status as two of the best defensive backs in the conference wasn’t always a given.
When Brody Scheff and Dusty Sluzewicz graduated following the 2011 season, the Beavers needed players to fill two big voids left by the departure of the senior captains. Scheff was a first-team Division II All-American and NSIC Defensive Player of the Year while Sluzewicz was a second-team All-NSIC defensive player that season.
Jahner said he didn’t really know what to do. Valentine was recruited as a cornerback while Christensen was untested as a redshirt sophomore.
“We took a look at couple sophomores,” Jahner said. “At that time we brought in Jordan Abaroa from juco to bring some stability, but as the year went on Dylan inserted himself as a starter.
“Back then they were a little on the meek side, they didn’t communicate very forcefully and they didn’t run the show. it was a constant battle.”
Valentine said it took him some time to make the transition from corner — specifically using Scheff and Sluzewicz game film as inspiration.
“Those two guys, Brody and Dusty, they were unbelievable,” he said. “I still look back at film from them. We learned so much.
“And back when they were here I was still playing corner. Now that I’m back at safety I’ve been able to take even more from them. I’ve molded into the position. It took a little bit but I think I finally came around and it’s been working out well.”
Jahner said he always thought Christensen could be a great run-stopper but said the hard-hitting Georgian needed some time to mature.
“The thing about Scott is we always knew he was a hard-hitter in high school,” Jahner said. “He actually knocked himself out of a couple games in high school. He did the same thing when he got up here. That was his reputation, but he’s really matured to a leader.”
It took three years but now the two feel they act as one.
“We definitely compliment each other,” Christensen said. “He’s more of a pass guy. He can cover a whole lot better than I can. I think I can knock down the run pretty good.”
However, Jahner said he seems both of them as the “complete package.”
“They’ve gotten into their senior year and Dylan has worked so hard at becoming a better run stopper and Scott has worked so much on his pass coverage that I really think both of them are the complete package right now.”
The BSU coaching staff knows with a young yet experienced offensive unit, they’ll need to lean upon Valentine, Christensen and the rest of the Beaver defense in the early goings of this season.
“It all starts with our front seven and corners,” Valentine said. “We have a lot of pieces coming back. We have depth now. I think it’s awesome that we have everybody coming back and I think when it comes together it’s going to be a lot of fun this season.”