LU Seniors Return to Lead Strengthened D-Line
BEAUMONT – For most the thought of putting on a helmet and pads and working out in the heat and humidity of Southeast Texas during August is something to avoid at all costs. Fortunately for Lamar University football fans, Big Red’s defensive linemen view things a little differently. The reason for their excitement has more to do with the fact that during spring camp LU’s defensive front was left in a unique situation.
The Cardinals opened spring believing that former Oklahoma head coach John Blake would be the defensive line coach. Shortly after spring ball got underway Blake left the Golden Triangle to take on a similar position in the NFL which left LU’s line not only learning a new scheme under a new defensive coordinator, but also without a position coach.
“Spring camp was unique for the defensive line because we didn’t have a coach,” said senior Omar Tebo. “It was tough at the beginning because you didn’t have that coach to just work with you, and get you where you need to be. We all felt like the other coaches were doing a great job helping where they could but they had their responsibilities to their athletes as well. It was a great feeling when Coach (Eric) Roark got here.”
In addition to not having a coach until the final days of spring camp, LU’s defensive line was also learning a new scheme. The Cardinals had run more of a 3-4 alignment in previous years but transitioned to a 4-2-5 under new coordinator Trey Haverty.
“We place a big emphasis on our defensive line,” said Haverty. “We need those guys to stay in their gaps and do their jobs. They were placed in a unique circumstance during the spring but the continuity and stability is there now. It’s been fun watching the older guys buy into the system and progress and watching the younger guys get better.”
Outside of new schemes and new coaches, the Cards’ defensive front returns several familiar names led by seniors Larry Carroll and Tebo. A former All-Southland selection, Tebo has been one of the league’s top linemen for the past three seasons. He enters his final season with the Red and White having recorded 127 tackles, including 17.5 for losses in 26 career starts.
Carroll joined the Cardinals during fall camp last season and started all 11 games from a defensive end position. The 6-3, 310-pound native of New Boston, Texas, has moved to an interior position for his final season.
Another name that LU fans will be familiar with is Manasseh Miles (6-0, 240), but unfortunately the name recognition comes more from what happened to him on the field than the numbers he produced. A transfer from Trinity Valley Junior College, Miles was another big addition to the Cardinals’ line during the 2015 fall. A pass rush specialist, there was a lot of excitement surrounding Miles addition to the roster last. He appeared to living up to that hype before a season-ending injury in the second game of the season.
Sticking with the theme of 2015 transfers, William Wowkanyn (6-3, 276) came to LU last season from Santa Rosa Junior College. Wowkanyn played in 10 games for the Cardinals recording 25 stops, including 4.5 tackles for losses in 2015.
There are other players that LU fans will recognize on the defensive line this season, but that recognition comes from time spent at different positions in 2015. Senior Mike Hargis and sophomore Dedrick Garner spent time at linebacker, while senior Brannon Beaton and sophomore Chase Woods make the transition from offensive side of the ball. Three of the four players should see time at defensive end in 2016, while Woods is expected to see time on the interior. That group joins sophomore Seth Adams and Marcus Abbott who were on the defensive live last season. Abbott utilized his redshirt, while Adams recorded eight tackles a year ago.
“I was hired right before the spring game, so there wasn’t much coaching I could do with these guys at that point,” said Roark. “In addition to that we were moving from three linemen in the past to more of a four down this year so I spent a great majority of my time watching film and evaluating what we had. From there it is a matter of trying to figure out where the pieces of the puzzle fit together. We’ve been looking for players who can be multi-dimensional and play different positions. We’re still building quality and quantity of depth, and we still have a ways to go, but we’re getting an idea of where the pieces fit together.”
In addition to the returning letterwinners, the Cardinals nationally ranked recruiting class in February will also pay dividends for the defensive line. Newcomers Daniel Crosley (6-1, 242) and James Jeffery (6-3, 234) are two of the highly touted freshmen who will be looking for early playing time.
“I think the new guys have come in and really added to the strength of our line,” said Tebo. “Like every position group faces at the end of a year, we took some losses due to guys using up their eligibility but the coaches brought in a strong recruiting class. Those guys have made us better, and I believe we had a good group of players coming back.
“One of the key things about this year is we are trying to build depth. When you go from a three down to four that means you go from needing six players to now needing eight to be two deep on your roster. We have to produce quality and quantity which is why we are looking for players who can be multidimensional. Fortunately for us we have a good group of seniors who have been around for a while, and we’ve had some freshmen who have stepped up as well,” added Roark.
The Cardinals defense will get tested early in 2016 as they face arguably the toughest schedule at the FCS level. Big Red’s first three opponents all enter the season ranked in the preseason top 25, including Coastal Carolina who opens the season in at Provost Umphrey Stadium Saturday, Sept. 3. The Chanticleers are in their first year of transitioning up to NCAAA FBS.