Sean Chandler said he was going to start at cornerback.
As a freshman, though, he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task.
“I told him it was going to be hard,” defensive backs coach Fran Brown said. “But it happened. It was something that he thought would happen, but it was still something where I thought he was going to come and contribute, not start right away like that.”
“It’s been nothing but hard work and dedication,” Chandler said. “It’s been a big change from high school. I’m still even getting used to it now.”
Yet, Brown said the transition went a little smoother than expected.
“He is a football guy,” Brown said. “He is a gym rat when it comes to football. He’s not complacent, he understood that ‘I have to bust my butt every day in order to keep something.’”
When the former two-way player at Camden High School arrived at training camp, he impressed from the outset.
“He really is one one of the guys that stood out right away,” junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “For him to compete at the level that he was competing, I mean he was going just as hard, if not harder than some of the vets. That is what you love from a new guy like that.
“You love seeing that,” Matakevich added. “Just throughout camp, he just progressed and got better and better. He just kept competing, and it got to the point where they wouldn’t even throw to his side.”
There was a point in training camp, Matakevich recalled, in which the team ran two-minute drills for three consecutive days.
All three times, Chandler, who goes by the nickname “Champ,” came up with an interception to end it.
“A guy like that, just competing, from my perspective I love having a guy like that out there with me,” Matakevich said.
The work Chandler put in at training camp had him entering the season as one of the team’s “tough guys,” a revived-tradition from former Temple coach Al Golden’s era that gave him the right to wear a single-digit number on his jersey based on a selection by his teammates.
“He had a majority of the votes,” Matakevich said. “Coming from an older guy, I was shocked. He got the number and some kids might take a step back and he’s just progressively just keeps getting better and keeps competing.”
Chandler and his coaches also feel he adjusted well to the team’s defensive scheme.
“He is able to check things on his own without being told all the time,” Brown said. “That is the difference. You usually got to tell that to freshmen, but he kind of knows it. He watches a lot of film and he knows his playbook.”
In Temple’s home-opening loss to Navy, Chandler made the first start of his collegiate career.
In front of his family, Chandler relished the opportunity.
“It was definitely a good feeling,” Chandler said, with his mother and sister watching in the stands as he ran through the tunnel of Lincoln Financial Field for the first time.
But the good times last Saturday seemed to stop there, as Temple struggled against a Navy offense that scored 31 points with a lopsided 487 rushing yards.
Despite Chandler’s four solo tackles that day, the Owls defense was hard-pressed to find a way to stop Navy’s rushing onslaught.
After a tough 2013 season, in which the Owls went 2-10, Brown stressed the importance of sticking to the basics in a new year, along with the maturation of junior and fellow defensive back Tavon Young.
“I knew I had to take over and bring everybody along,” Young said. “Everybody else is young and hasn’t gotten through the system yet.”
But like many others, the veteran knew Chandler was going to find his way to the field once he saw him in action.
“I felt like he was going to come in and make an impact early,” Young said. “Once I saw him in a couple practices in camp, I knew that he was going to play this year.”
Brown said Young serves as a mentor for Chandler.
“[Young] kind of grooms ‘Champ’ and those guys,” Brown said. “He is like the leader of that group, and Champ is just following right in play. Those guys go at it and compete to see who is the best.”
Regardless of his position on the depth chart, however, Chandler prioritizes the team’s success before his individual accomplishments.
“I just want to win games,” Chandler said. “Just help anyway I can.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @itssnick215