Michael Billings Jr.’s decision to attend Coastal Carolina had everything to do with comfort.
He had lived in Georgetown nearly his entire life, so CCU was close to home.
That proximity to his hometown and family might appear to be the source of his comfort, but Billings said it actually wasn’t a factor in his decision to attend CCU last fall.
“It really wasn’t the fact that it was so close to home, I just felt like the coaches made me feel at home,” Billings said. “Every school is different, and they gave me that love that I feel when I feel at home.”
His gut feeling didn’t lead Billings astray.
“Coastal’s a good place. I’m real happy with my decision,” he said. “The atmosphere around here, everybody loves you and everybody is a big family. It’s a beautiful place to be here, close to the beach and close to vacation time.”
The Chanticleers coaching staff is also happy Billings chose to remain close to home, as he’s quickly becoming an impact player in his sophomore season.
The safety started the season opener at Lamar in place of senior C.J. Thompson, who missed the game with a hamstring injury but is expected to return to the starting lineup for Saturday’s home opener against Florida A&M.
Billings was third on the team in the season opener with seven tackles, including four solo tackles, and aside from interceptions by Richie Sampson and Alex Scearce he was credited with the team’s lone pass defended.
“I feel I played pretty good, but you watch film and see some things you could do better on, and some mistakes you have, so every day is a day to get better,” Billings said.
Billings is one reason defensive coordinator Mickey Matthews feels good about the team’s depth at safety, though both he and head coach Joe Moglia saw some inconsistency from the sophomore in the season opener.
“He did a nice job,” Matthews said. “He’s a very intelligent player, and a very physical, good football player. He’s very inexperienced and he made some inexperienced mistakes, but overall we were really pleased how well he played.”
He started some games last year and he wound up playing well. I think he was a little inconsistent as far as the game goes. I think there were a couple plays at potentially he certainly could have made had he been in the right position or taken the right angle. Michael’s a very smart kid. He works hard and he’ll definitely improve over time.
Coastal Carolina head coach Joe Moglia
Billings, who is 6-feet and 195 pounds, started two games late last season but suffered a concussion against Kennesaw State that forced him to miss the regular season finale against Liberty and playoff loss to Citadel.
“I was thankful and happy to be back on the field since my injury at Kennesaw State,” Billings said. “I’m feeling really good.”
He tallied five tackles, a sack for a 14-yard loss and a forced fumble in his first collegiate start against Gardner-Webb, a 46-0 win in which CCU pitched its first ever shutout of a league opponent, and he had a pair of tackles and a pass breakup prior to exiting the Kennesaw State game.
Including his special teams play, Billings was credited with 11 tackles as a freshman.
Billings has adjusted well to college academically, making the Dean’s List in both of his freshman semesters as an Information Technologies major while being named to the 2015-16 Big South Presidential Honor Roll for posting at least a 3.0 grade-point average for the academic year.
The intelligence has translated to the football field.
“The good thing about Mike is he’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s focused and he’s a smart kid,” CCU safeties coach Curt Baldus said. “He learns things fast and he’s usually ahead of a lot of the other young guys mentally in terms of what he’s doing, and once you correct a mistake he usually fixes it right away. That helps you have confidence he’ll do the right thing.”
Billings moved from New Haven, Conn., to Georgetown at the age of 1 because his parents wanted to be closer to family members in the area.
He attended multiple football camps at CCU growing up, but he hadn’t been to a Chants game before the recruiting process. “I was coming to the camps and hearing everything about Coastal and how they were winning Big South championships and everything, so actually I fell in love with the school before I actually got recruited here,” he said.
Billings committed to CCU following his junior year at Georgetown High. He was also being recruited by Gardner-Webb, Citadel and Appalachian State, though CCU was the first to offer a scholarship.
He lives in an off-campus apartment, and though he spends a lot of time in Georgetown in the summer he seldom gets home during the season.
Both of his parents are still in Georgetown. His mother, Sabrina, is a fourth-grade teacher and his father, Michael Sr., is a paraprofessional who works with special needs students at Georgetown High. They didn’t miss a home game last year and traveled to Beaumont, Texas, for the season opener last weekend. Billings’ younger brother, Sheldon Michael Billings, is a senior on the Georgetown High football team and his older sister, Naijour, is in the military.
Billings was predominantly a running back at Georgetown High, but he also played quarterback in wildcat formations, slot receiver, cornerback and safety. His defensive snaps were usually reserved for the bigger games.
Bradley Adams, his high school coach, told him his body wasn’t necessarily suited to play running back at the Division I level but he could be a successful defensive player. “I love playing defense. I love hitting people,” Billings said. “I do miss running back at times, though.”
He was being worked at cornerback in a CCU football camp but was advised to move to safety by a coach at the camp the next year. “I went as a safety and I dominated in the camp and I had a good time, and thankfully I got a scholarship offer after that,” Billings said.
There was a possibility he would redshirt as a freshman. At one time last preseason he was down on the depth chart. But he joined the kickoff and punt special teams “and they said I had a pretty good chance of playing later on down the road and that’s what happened,” Billings said.
“I wasn’t surprised. Every freshman coming in wants to be a true freshman player. The true freshmen players are considered the good players. I was thankful for the opportunity to play and they trusted me.”
Billings is prepared to become a bigger factor on the Chants’ defense this season.
“I feel I’m more mature and learning more things,” he said. “Every year you learn something different and you get deeper in the playbook and understand new things. I feel my mind is in a better place playing football now.
“You wish every year is a breakout year. I wish I had one last year but it didn’t happen. So I’m hoping this year will be the breakout year for me.”