PHILADELPHIA - They say "offense wins games but defense wins championships." The 2015 Temple Owls hope that axiom rings true in their pursuit of the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game. Should the Owls find themselves playing that first Saturday in December, much will be owed to the strength of the defense, who return all 11 starters from last season. Loaded with upperclassmen, the unit looks to continue the elite play of 2014.
When the Owls take the field September 5th
against Penn State, one of the marquee positions will be filled by a returning underclassman starter. Sophomore cornerback Sean Chandler
returns to a talented and veteran secondary as one of the younger members. However, he proved his value as a freshman, earned a start against Navy in just his second collegiate game, and never gave up his spot. He credits his work ethic and study skills for his rapid ascent: "I just stayed late and studied films, picked my coaches' brains." He earned ECAC rookie of the week for his effort against Memphis on November 1st
, recording six tackles, including one tackle for loss, along with a forced fumble.
Chandler is one of many young Owls who joined the team after standout high school careers. He starred just across the river for the Camden High Panthers, playing both ways for head coach Dwayne Savage. While there, the Panthers achieved one of their best seasons in decades, finishing 2013 with an undefeated regular season before falling in the sectional playoffs. The 10-1 record was the team's best since 1976. Chandler accrued over 1,300 all-purpose yards as a receiver and return ace. He also picked off eight passes, returning three for touchdowns, while recording 60 tackles and a fumble recovery. The Philadelphia Inquirer
named him the 2013 defensive player of the year after he made all-conference his sophomore and junior years.
Like many incoming freshmen, Chandler found the faster tempo of the college game the most difficult transition. However, he put in the work throughout the week and earned the starting position. He finished his freshman season with 69 total tackles, including twelve against #21/19 nationally ranked East Carolina in a 20-10 victory. He recorded his first career sack at UConn and his first INT in the season finale against Tulane, both Owls victories in The American. His eight knockdowns gave him nine passes defended for the season, second-best on the team behind Tavon Young
and top-12 in The American. Chandler credits Young on helping him acclimate to the speed of FBS play and how best to prepare. "He taught me a lot. He taught me to how to break down film. He warned me about how the game would be faster, even faster than practice."
One of the slogans of Temple football is "Temple Tuff." Few guys exemplify that as well as Chandler. His nickname is Champ, like the perennial All-Pro corner Champ Bailey who he emulates. Chandler fashioned his game off the hard-hitting playmaker who was among the best cover corners as the game evolved to more passing. Chandler is also one of the few Temple players to wear the coveted single digit, like his cornerback partner Young. Chandler is the youngest current Owl, wearing #3, to carry this distinction, earning it for his toughness. He understands the prestige also carries a responsibility with it and he accepts the challenge. "It just makes you go harder every day."
Even with the many noteworthy members of the Temple Owls 2015 defense, Chandler knows teams won't forget him while they gameplan. He expects to see more balls thrown his way, especially if he lines across from some of the conference's top receivers. He also knows he will have more chances to pick off balls and make plays. Even with the increased visibility, he plans on following his methods of previous success. "I'll just keep preparing each and every week to get better. I learned how to get ahead, stay on top of my work, and that translated over to the football field." With a year of experience under his belt and the top defenders on the field with him, this could translate to a historically successful year on North Broad.