MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University defense ranked fourth in the GLIAC in takeaways in 2012, with 13 of the 22 turnovers produced being interceptions.
Of those interceptions, eight came from three returnees to the Wildcats' secondary in senior captain Brandon Parson, junior Derek Beltrame of Ishpeming and sophomore Levi Perry.
Those three also watched as opponents scored 10 touchdowns of 40 or more yards, or 14 TDs of 30-plus yards.
Northern Michigan University junior defensive back Derek Beltrame of Ishpeming tackles an Ashland ball carrier last season at the Superior Dome in Marquette. Beltrame had three picks and 37 tackles in 10 games last year. (Journal file photo)
That's a statistic Parson wants to change.
"We have a lot to prove in the GLIAC because a lot of guys don't respect us in the GLIAC right now," Parson said. "We have a large chip on our shoulder for that. We want to go out and play fast, play hard and play tough.
"We want to show coach he can put us on an island and he can have the confidence in us to call whatever he needs to in any type of situation."
First-year defensive coordinator and returning defensive backs coach Joe Ballard wants the same as Parson, especially after his captain and the other returning defensive backs - like sophomore Thomas McNamara - were shuffled around the secondary last year.
That experience playing on the corners and as safeties should pay off this year with a group of starters who are not only more physically mature, but more intelligent.
It should also lead to the defense making more big plays than it gives up, Ballard said.
"We emphasize to our defense they need to be smarter than their opponent," Ballard said. "When we talk about that, it means you have to learn the whole defense. Learn where everybody is going. Learn where your help is.
"With those moves last year, it really let the guys learn the defense."
Parson led the NMU secondary last year with 58 tackles and three interceptions in 11 games. Beltrame was right behind him with three picks and 37 tackles in 10 games.
Perry appeared in all 11 games as a freshman last year, picking off two passes and making 29 tackles.
McNamara only appeared in six games as a freshman, but made 28 tackles in his half season.
"Parson is my real leader right now," Ballard said. "Perry has done a great job. He has shown to be a true playmaker. He's running to the ball, doing the things he needs to.
"(And) Beltrame is as solid as anybody in the back end."
Behind Parson, Beltrame, Perry and McNamara, are junior transfers Avion Brown out of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Brandon Buteyn of Palmdale, Calif.
In addition, NMU brought in freshmen Deionte Brown of Detroit, Jake Gierlak of Algonquin, Ill., Pat Ryan of downstate Linden, Mark Walker of Delray Beach, Fla., and Chris Washington of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Julian Hornback of downstate Allegan and Keshawn Walker of Dearborn are also back as redshirt freshmen after sitting out a year ago.
Ballard said he likes the Wildcats' depth, pointing out Washington, Brown, Buteyn and Ryan as surprises thus far. Yet, the new faces still need to mature, he said.
"We have the depth we need," Ballard said. "We just need to keep growing and get bigger, stronger and faster."