Sacramento State defensive backs Marte Mapu (15) Malik Jeter (10) walk on the field to prepare for their next defensive possession against Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Hornet Stadium. The secondary has amounted 10 interceptions so far this season. (Jordan Parker)
Sacramento State defensive backs Marte Mapu (15) Malik Jeter (10) walk on the field to prepare for their next defensive possession against Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Hornet Stadium. The secondary has amounted 10 interceptions so far this season.

Jordan Parker

Sac State football: Secondary maintains mentality of a shark

‘You’re going to be swimming all alone’

November 15, 2021

When defensive backs commit to Sacramento State they are not only committing to be a Hornet, but they are also signing up for the identity and mentality of being a “Shark.” 

The Sharks are more than just an alias for the defensive back group at Sac State, according to defensive back coach Cherokee Valeria “it’s a mindset.” 

“It starts out as a mentality that you’re [defensive backs] going to be out on an island at times,” Valeria said. “You’re going to be swimming all alone, and you’re going to have to guard somebody on your own and make it happen. Then, there’s other times where you're going to be swarming with a group of sharks coming in for bait.” 

Junior nickelback Marte Mapu summed the shark mentality up as “being relentless with the ball in the air, creating big plays and sticking to technique.” 

It sounds simple, especially coming from Mapu who is tied for the most interceptions on the team. But, as a defensive back you have to be resilient and know that there will be plays that you will get beat, according to Valeria. 

Sacramento State senior safety Malik Jeter looks toward the sideline at the end of the play against Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Hornet Stadium. The Hornets have the No. 3 ranked passing defense in the Big Sky conference. (Jordan Parker)

“The mentality is you’re going to get beat, [but] it’s how you respond when you get beat that determines if you’re going to be a champion or if you’re going to be just another sucker,” Valeria said.

He said it is about learning from the mistakes you make, knowing what failure feels like and how to respond to failure without succumbing to the pressure of failing again.

“I want them to feel failure because once they feel it, then they know what it feels like and how to respond to it,” Valeria said. “If they don’t understand that they can do it, then they're going to shrink under pressure when they get beat that first major time, and they’re not going to be able to perform at the highest level that they need to be.”

The Sharks have had their fair share of struggles at the beginning of the season allowing four total passing touchdowns in weeks two and three combined. Since then, the Hornets have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers allowing only two touchdowns in the last six games and amounting at least one interception in five of those six games. 

Mapu said that they had to rest and get back to what they’ve been doing as a defense, which is creating turnovers. 


Sac State has the second-most interceptions in the Big Sky conference, and it all starts with the bond and chemistry that they have as a defense and in the secondary. 

“I feel like how we act around each other and get along with each other outside of football shows up out here [on the field] tremendously,” said senior safety Malik Jeter. “It’s us coming out here, having fun and turning up for our teammates.”

Senior cornerback Munchie Filer III was one of the newest additions to the Hornet secondary after transferring from Montana State, and according to a tweet from Filer on Monday, coming to Sac State was the best decision that he has made all of 2021.

Filer embraced the shark mentality that Valeria and defensive coordinator Andy Thompson preached because of how genuine everyone was when he arrived in Sacramento. 

“It’s bigger than ball,” Filer said. “It’s the things off the field, the conversations off the field. It’s always genuine. When you're getting genuine love, you want to go play your heart out.” 

Sacramento State senior defensive back Munchie Filer III lines up against Cal Poly and prepares for the next play on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Hornet Stadium. Filer has three interceptions this season. (Jordan Parker)

The foundation that the secondary has constructed throughout the season has allowed them to be on the same page and coach each other up without anyone’s pride or ego getting in the way. 

“For the most part, we coach together so we know what each other’s thinking,” Mapu said. “If not then they [the coaches] will make us talk about it.” 

The defense has been on the same page since the beginning of conference play, and prior to their victory over Portland State, they went a month without allowing a single passing touchdown. 

“It’s bigger than ball,” Filer said. “It’s the things off the field, the conversations off the field. It’s always genuine. When you're getting genuine love, you want to go play your heart out.” ”

Valeria and Thompson hold the defense to a high standard and each practice they strive to get at least three interceptions as a collective, but Valeria said the Sharks “push themselves to get as many as they can per practice.” 

The Sharks may have to push the standard a bit further with a Big Sky title and an automatic bid to the playoffs hanging in the balance.

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Brandon Bailey, sports writer
Brandon Bailey is a sports beat writer for The State Hornet. He is a senior who joined The State Hornet in fall 2020. He has previously worked as a general rotation writer for The State Hornet and is majoring in journalism.

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  • Valerie DabneyNov 15, 2021 at 6:25 pm

    I read your articles daily, you never mention the big boys. The offensive line are beast. The whole team need recognition not just some.

    Reply