On paper, graduating a pair of All-Big Sky Conference honorees may remove a few key cards from Cha’pelle Brown’s hand, but the third-year defensive backs mentor knows he has plenty to work with as UC Davis approaches the start of the 2019 football season.

“Every team in America loses its seniors,” said Brown. “As a coach, my job is to out-recruit them and to develop the guys who are here. We’re excited about the guys that we have. We raised the standard in the last two years I’ve been here. Even with losing those two guys, we expect to raise the standard again this year.”

Granted, cornerbacks Isiah Olave and Vincent White certainly made the most of their final seasons in 2018, eventually earning invitations to NFL minicamps the following spring. Olave led the Aggie secondary with 66 tackles while White’s 19 breakups helped him rank among the national leaders in passes defended.

However, back in action for 2019 include safety Erron Duncan, who totaled 56 tackles (T4th on the team) en route to earning the team’s Bo Eason Award as the most improved defensive player. Senior Tiger Garcia returns as one of the team’s two defensive co-captains. Senior Josh Januska, junior Isaiah Thomas (25 tackles) and sophomores Devon King  and Jordan Perryman each appeared in all 13 games in 2018. In particular, King earned Freshman All-America accolades from both HERO Sports and Phil Steele.

“They bring the experience,” Brown said. “In the last two years, they have been through a lot and were able to go to the playoffs. The guys who played a lot of games will have a significant role on the team, and we’re excited about that.”

The Aggies also brought aboard three true freshmen to join the returning group, namely Sean Harlston (Compton), Sequoia Magdalena (Sherman Oaks) and local product Jehiel Budgett (Elk Grove). Harlston starred on both ends of the field and even considered playing college basketball before returning to football as a senior at Dominguez High School. Magdalena, from Notre Dame High, matches Harlston’s height of 6-foot-3 in providing the defensive backfield with some size. Budgett made headlines in the local area by helping Monterey Trail to an undefeated regular season and a Metro League championship.

Brown, who previously served on the football staffs at Colorado, Oregon and Northern Arizona before arriving to UC Davis in 2017, has enough experience to avoid making any predictions as to who will see the most playing time. In fact, the high-volume nature of the Aggie defense means Brown seeks depth among his unit:

“My job is to get them all ready and to see who is going to develop,” said Brown. “You never know who is going to play, but I can definitely tell you that they fit the culture and they’re doing good things.

“We know, like last year, we lost some key players and other guys had to step up. For me, it’s trying to develop every guy on the roster so that if one guy goes down, another guy can step up.”

That process begins when UC Davis opens its 2019 season at California on Aug. 31.

– Mark Honbo