Catawba football: Defensive preview

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

By Mike London
The Guinness Book of World Records folks haven’t gotten around to calling yet, but Catawba may have qualified for an entry in a brand new category ó most returning defensive linemen at a Division II football program.
Assistant coach Khanis Hubbard points out the Indians have nine veterans back who’ve started at least one game.
Hubbard and fellow assistant Radell Lockhart oversee enough oversized bodies to start their own baseball team.
Numbers mean depth and the ability to weather the inevitable bumps, bruises and injuries that occur over the course of a long season.
There’s quality as well as quantity. Melquan Fair, Brandon Sutton and Marqus Davis made a combined 45 tackles for loss last season and have appeared regularly on all-this and all-that teams throughout the preseason. All three are South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year candidates.
Sutton, who made 10 tackles against Carson-Newman, is the Muhammad Ali of the trio when it comes to talking a great game, but all three get it done.
“Your defense starts with those guys upfront, and we’ve got a lot of guys who have been in the trenches,” Catawba head coach Chip Hester said. “On paper, we’re the deepest we’ve ever been there. We’ll be able to roll multiple guys and not drop off. With so many good players back, we’re hoping teams we play will have to pick their poison and make touch choices. If they double-team someone, there should still be some one-on-one matchups that are good ones for us.”
Presumably, all of Catawba’s defensive linemen will be even better with another year of experience and another year in the Hayes Fieldhouse weight room, and Catawba’s overall defensive numbers were already fine in 2008.
Catawba led the SAC in rushing defense and yardage allowed. It was second in sacks, pass defense and scoring defense.
Other veteran linemen include Terrence Porter, Arthur Cromartie, Alex Hartsell, Julian Hartsell, Wilbur Pender, Brandon Weedon and Robert Brown. Porter is the likely fourth starter.
Hester said Weedon, a 220-pound sophomore, is as fast as anyone on the team.
The defense lost impact players, with linebacker Charles McAfee, who was in on a team-leading 81 tackles, leaving the biggest hole.
Lakeem Perry, the SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year, keys the linebacking corps. He’ll be in the middle.
Perry ranked second to McAfee with 74 tackles last season, 17 of them against Newberry, and he has added solid weight. He looked like a safety last year, but at 215 pounds he now looks the part of a linebacker.
Julian Samolu (West Rowan) keeps getting better each year, and he made 45 tackles as a junior. He’ll return as a starter. Leon Ager was a key reserve and special teams force last season and probably will repeat that role with the emergence of true freshman Cory Johnson as a starter.
“Cory looks like and plays like he’s 25,” Hester said. “Very physical.”
Jeb Bass and Ronnie Martin will be key backups.
Catawba’s secondary will miss Jasmon Carpenter and is the position group with the least amount of certainty. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a question mark, just that there are lots of returners competing for jobs alongside promising newcomers such as Jumal Rolle and L.J. McCray.
The depth chart shows veteran Jaspen Gray (Davie) opening at free safety with hard-hitting Kewone Harris, who was good on special teams last year, at strong safety. Terrence Jones and Calvin Hall, a transfer from Averett, were listed as the starting corners.
Derrick Brown, Bryant Vennable, Octavius Hough, Cortez Best and Aaron Cauble (East Rowan) are in the mix.
“Athletically and physically, we’ve brought in the best-looking group of DBs we’ve ever had,” Hester said. “It’s a talented group we have in the secondary, but it’s in flux. We’ll see how it shakes out.”
However things shake out in the back four, everything still will start with those large guys upfront.
“We’re veterans, lots of upperclassmen who are focused on winning and we should be real good,” Davis said. “It’s our job to make things easier for those young guys in the back.”