Former Gophers safety Tyrone Carter won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 1999, yet he can't remember the program having a complete secondary quite like this.

"I think we've got the best secondary in the Big Ten," Carter said. "Eric Murray is a lockdown corner. Briean Boddy-Calhoun — his athletic ability is off the charts. Damarius Travis is a taller safety from Florida who can do everything. And Antonio Johnson — he's a hitter."

Carter might be biased, but this senior foursome has drawn praise elsewhere, too. The Big Ten Network ranked the Gophers secondary as the best in the Big Ten West. ESPN ranks Wisconsin's secondary No. 1 in the conference, with the Gophers tied for second with Ohio State.

With any other group, Gophers coaches might worry about the hype going to players' heads. Not these four. They arrived in the same recruiting class after drawing little interest from other major colleges.

They have also spent three-plus years reporting to defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel, who is not one to offer faint praise.

"The ratio, I would say, is about 20-to-1," Boddy-Calhoun said, smiling. "So 20 times he'll tell you what you did wrong, and then one time, he'll tell you what you did right. And that's from a fifth-year senior, so you can only imagine the ratio for a young guy."

When relayed that comment, Sawvel said: "Coaching is like medicine. It doesn't always taste good, but it's meant to help you."

Sawvel has helped mold these four into pro prospects who could follow Brock Vereen (Chicago Bears) and Cedric Thompson (Miami Dolphins) as recent Gophers defensive backs taken in the NFL draft.

"There may be a time when we'll have a guy more talented than one of these four," Sawvel said. "But I don't know that we'll ever have a group of them like this as far as personality, work ethic and value to the team."

Sawvel can't recall a single day when one of these seniors complained. They are not only willing to play special teams, for example, they thrive at them. Whatever the team needs, ego doesn't get in the way.

The Seahawks had the "Legion of Boom" secondary, and Michigan State had the "No Fly Zone." Seeking a nickname for Gophers defensive backs, Boddy-Calhoun settled on "We Dem Boyz," after the 2014 hit by Wiz Khalifa.

A more telling moniker might be "Football Fridays." That's the name Boddy-Calhoun had for the weekly training and film-session marathons during the offseason.

"Friday is usually an off day, or an easy day, but I make that my hardest day going into the weekend," he said. "This past summer, it was like a senior thing with me, Damarius, Tone and Eric. We'd get some young guys some weeks, but it was fun being around these guys all day on Friday from 5 to 6."

That's 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Boddy-Calhoun was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last year after making five interceptions and other key plays, including a game-saving strip of Nebraska receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El in that four-point victory.

"He has such a feel for the game," Sawvel said of Boddy-Calhoun. "He was a good point guard in high school, and it's almost like he has that same kind of command on a football field."

Boddy-Calhoun had an offer from Illinois coming out of junior college in Coffeyville, Kan., marking the only major college offer any of these senior DBs had besides Minnesota.

Murray had no other offers — period. He was largely ignored by recruiters as a wide receiver coming from inner-city Milwaukee. Now, ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks Murray as the second-best prospect among senior cornerbacks for the 2016 NFL draft, behind Mississippi State's Will Redmond.

Murray had only one interception last year, but that's partly because quarterbacks usually avoided him. Sawvel said the Gophers can sketch entire portions of their defensive game plan around Murray's ability to erase one side of the field.

"He rarely needs much help [from other defenders]," Sawvel said. "So it allows you to play certain coverages, where it's just him back there on one side of the field, and we tilt everything away from him."

The Gophers believe Travis is blossoming into another NFL prospect, with improving tackling and coverage skills at 6-2 and 215 pounds. Foot and finger injuries limited Travis early last season, but he still made 61 tackles with two interceptions and a forced fumble.

"The way that he finished last year and went through the spring, I would expect Damarius will start to get a lot of [national] attention," Sawvel said. "People will say, 'Where did he come from?' When really, he's been here and done some good things."

Then there's Johnson, who made 69 tackles in 2013 before being slowed by a strained knee ligament last year.

"People forget how good Antonio is," Sawvel said. "Antonio is a better player than Cedric [Thompson, a fifth-round draft pick]. He's a competitive guy and sort of has a hell-on-wheels mentality. Through maturity, he's figured out how to be in the right spot."

Sawvel said throughout college football, there's a short list of cornerbacks and safeties who make him think: "I wish we had him."

With these four seniors around, he said, "We've got what we need."