Joe Crochet

Citadel linebacker Joe Crochet celebrates with teammates during the Bulldogs' 22-14 win over Chattanooga on Saturday, Oct. 15 at Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston. 

Call it confidence. Call it swagger. The Citadel defense just calls it juice.

There’s a palpable spirit flowing through the Bulldogs defense this season. It’s a trust that the players have in themselves and faith in the men lining up beside them. Big plays are expected. Big stops will be celebrated; big wins even more so.

“You’ve got to bring the juice when you come play,” Bulldogs defensive lineman Jonathan King said. “Add that excitement. Be the most excited team to play. It makes the game that much more fun, makes it that much more meaningful.”

The origin of juice at The Citadel traces back to last season. Linebacker Gregory Pappas, then a sophomore, became known for igniting the sideline during practice whenever the first-team defense faced the first-team offense in third-down situations.

“He would be on the sideline dancing and just turning up,” cornerback Dee Delaney said. “So we just always said he had the most juice on third down.”

The juice is no longer relegated to third downs in practice. It’s groomed in the locker room before games as players prepare certain ways. It spills onto the field as the Bulldogs storm out during pregame introductions. You see it in every turnover, every sack, every big hit, every stop, every celebration; the juice flows.

“Juice is just basically knowing what you’re doing and feeling so good about it that you have a little swag about yourself,” Delaney said. “They’re going to smash you in the mouth and stop the run. With the defensive backs, we know we have to come down and make tackles but overall the ball is the main focus. So if it’s in the air, we feel like it’s meant for us.”

The Citadel defense didn't allow a single point in the second half of successive wins against North Greenville and Chattanooga. The Bulldogs have only allowed 22 points in the fourth quarter all season, fewest in the Southern Conference. 

Through The Citadel’s 7-0 start to the season, its defense leads the SoCon in interceptions, sacks and first downs allowed. The Bulldogs rank third or better in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, third-down conversions allowed and passing defense efficiency.

“We just focus on doing our part, P.Y.P — playing our position,” King said. “We focus on what you have to do individually and you do it right and it all comes together and great things happen.”

King ranks eighth in the SoCon in tackles for a loss and is tied with teammate Travis Johnson for 10th in sacks. Delaney is tied for first in the conference in interceptions and linebacker Joe Crochet is tied for first in fumble recoveries.

There are plenty of candidates, but who really has the most juice on this year’s defense? Ask the Bulldogs and most point to junior defensive back Kailik Williams.

“He has the mindset of just killing the person with the ball in their hands,” Delaney said. “You know he will make a big play. You just don’t know when.”

Williams is a key cog in the Bulldogs’ stronghold this season. His 51 total tackles pace the team by more than 20, and he’s tied with Delaney for the team lead in pass breakups. He moves like a safety but hits like a linebacker from his rover position. Saturday against Wofford, Williams helped force overtime with a interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. 

“He’s a ruthless player. I enjoy it. He reminds me of one of the players in the Legion of Boom,” King added, citing the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted secondary. “He’s a very aggressive, fast, fit guy, disciplined. He’s somebody you really want on your team.”

That ruthless mentality is a major reason the Bulldogs are one of just two unbeaten teams left in FCS football. Tough, disciplined, hard-nosed play is producing historic results this season. But it’s the juice that's made it all look so good.