If self-confidence is a job requirement for a cornerback, Serge Sejour is overqualified.
Sejour, a Howard senior, has broken up 10 passes this season, tying him for third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But if you ask him, that number is low -- because opponents are too afraid to throw on him.
"You always have the butterflies and nervousness, but you can't have fear," Sejour said. "I'm all about intimidation. Once I see the guy across me is worried, the game is over."
As an assistant, Howard Coach Ray Petty has instructed a series of terrific corners over the years, going back to Aeneas Williams at Southern in the late 1980s.
But, "as far as cockiness, Serge takes the cake on all of them," Petty said.
As hard a worker as the Bison have, Sejour's teammates have learned to laugh off, even appreciate, his limitless belief in himself. When one teammate said that "if Serge was half as good as he thought he was, he'd be in the League by now," he was not bitter; he was just stating facts.
"That's what's gotten him where he is," said Magruder High Coach Ed Ashwell, who coached Sejour, then a quarterback, at Einstein. "When I heard he was moved to corner, I was thinking, 'That's a perfect fit.' "
Sejour ran the option under Ashwell to great effect, leading the Titans to a 9-2 season and the only Maryland 2A state playoff spot in school history as a senior in 1998. After a brief but failed trial as a quarterback in then-Bison coach Steve Wilson's high-powered offense, he switched to safety, then cornerback, during his freshman year.
Any shyness about being a freshman in a new position was erased when he had two interceptions against Florida A&M.
"Once he did that, he was unstoppable," linebacker Tracy White said. "He was perfect. He couldn't do anything wrong."
Confidence aside, Sejour over-relied on athletic ability and strength during his first three seasons. When Petty and his defensive backs coach, Ronald Bolton, took over last spring, they found his technique a mess.
"I didn't think that much of him when I got here, but that was all I had," Bolton said.
Bolton got Sejour to improve his backpedal, gliding smoothly backward instead of taking jarring half-steps. He had him watch his wide receiver, not the quarterback, leaving him less vulnerable to fakes and timing passes. Most of all, Bolton wanted him to take better advantage of his long arms; Sejour is 6 feet 3, as tall as even the biggest wide receivers.
"Once he gets those arms on you, you're not going anywhere," Howard wide receiver Kevin Simmonds said.
But Sejour didn't change without a fight. Everything is up for debate with Sejour. Bolton has been telling him for three months he holds too often. Sejour still doesn't believe him.
"Serge is strong-willed," Bolton said. "Every day I have to break him down."
But for a player who admits he has absolute conviction in what he believes is right, he crumbles when he is beaten.
"If he makes a mistake, he'll go into a shell," White said. "You'll see him walking to the sidelines, cursing himself out. You have to go over and pick him up."
As late as a month ago, Petty was reluctant to play anything but zone defense because he didn't feel Sejour and Rontarius Robinson could handle wide receivers one-on-one. But over the past four games -- three of which have been Howard victories -- the Bison have increasingly played man-to-man, and allowed just one long touchdown pass. And Sejour is more confident than ever.
"He's surfaced as a leader on this defense," said Petty, pointing to fliers Sejour printed up that predicted a five-game winning streak to close the season. "In his own way."