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It’s a mantra that gets repeated often around UB Stadium: Next Bull In. Derek Brim kept that phrase in his mind, and his readiness paid major dividends last season.

Brim, a junior safety, stepped in last year when first-stringer Witney Sherry, who was third on the team in tackles, went down with a shoulder injury in Week Six. Sherry missed the rest of the season, and Brim took full advantage of his opportunity.

Brim started the final five games and finished the year with 47 tackles, including 19 in his first two starts and 34 as a starter. Now the job is his, and the 6-foot, 199-pound safety is considered among the Bulls’ strongest defenders.

“As a group, we’ve been all working hard, trying to be the best secondary in the MAC,” Brim said.

Asked about preparing for this season compared to previous years, in which he was a backup, Brim said, “it’s pretty much the same mind-set” – an answer emblematic of his buying into that Next Bull In mentality.

He made an impressive interception in practice Thursday but was quick to attribute the pick to senior Adam Redden, who deflected the ball in tight man-to-man coverage and plays both defensive back and linebacker.

“Redden did a great job and the ball just kind of flipped into my hands, so I give the credit to him,” Brim said.

Brim’s exceptional hands, however, were evident on the play. He was a star wide receiver at Canisius High School and started his collegiate career at the same position. But he switched to defensive back after his redshirt freshman year because the Bulls had a traffic jam at wide receiver, with Marcus Rivers, Terrell Jackson and Alex Neutz ahead of him in the pecking order.

Brim was primarily a special teams player until his opportunity came last year.

“It’s great to see how well Derek has developed,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said. “Derek came in as a non-scholarship football player in our program, really worked hard, kind of quiet. He kind of keeps things to himself. He’s not real loud. He does communicate and he communicates well with the back end.

“But boy oh boy, he brings it. He’s a hitter. He’s a contact guy.”

Brim walked on to the squad as a freshman and now he will start in “The Horseshoe” Aug. 31 against USA Today’s No. 2 team in the nation, Ohio State.

So, with all that talent and boy-oh-boy-he-brings-it ability, why walk on to the Bulls? One reason is the team’s location.

“I love playing in my hometown of Buffalo,” Brim said. “It’s great. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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Several players missed practice Thursday with injuries. Redshirt freshman running back Jordan Johnson (Sweet Home) was on the sidelines with his left arm in a sling.

“Jordan banged up his elbow, so we’re going to have to keep a close eye on that and see how long it’s going to take,” Quinn said.

Junior wide receiver Cordero Dixon, who is expected to compete for the slot position, was in street clothes. Dixon took a big shot Monday from corner Cortney Lester and was on the ground for about five minutes before walking off under his own power.

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Senior wide receiver Fred Lee got hit Thursday and was surrounded by the medical staff for several minutes before he walked off. It appeared he had the wind knocked out of him.

“He kind of laughed,” Quinn said. “Freddy’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever known.”

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The Bulls have practice in the morning today before an open-to-the-public scrimmage Saturday. The scrimmage, which marks the last day of camp, will run from 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

It will be a situational scrimmage, meaning it won’t have the fluidity of a typical game.

email: amansfield@buffnews.com