Aug. 21, 2012
Returning: Nick Bryant, Ryan Epperson, Justin Isadore, Rodney Young, Marvin Gray, Cedric Barlow
Newcomers: Jabralon Allen, Jordan Burton, Collin Garrett, Trevor Holmes
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - As part of a defense which led the nation in sacks in 2011, it is sensible for the defensive line to garner its fair share of headlines; however, no group may be as talented as this year's group of Stephen F. Austin linebackers.
SFA has been known for producing some of the best linebackers at the FCS level, dating all the way back to Jeremiah Trotter and even recently with all-American Jabara Williams. Even with the loss of two senior starters - Devin Ducote and Derrick Choice - this year looks to be similar with middle linebacker Ryan Epperson returning for his senior season.
At nearly 230 pounds, Epperson is a prototypical FCS level middle linebacker and showed his worth in his first year as a starter in 2011 by earning second team all-Southland Conference honors after totaling 113 tackles, including 54 of the solo variety.
He's managed to play in all of SFA's 36 games over the past three season and moved into a starting role in 2011, but will be relied upon even more so as the `Jacks will replace Ducote and Choice with a pair of newcomers this season. Collin Garrett, a transfer from Kansas who was originally recruited by the `Jacks out of Beaumont's Westbrook High School, is the current frontrunner to flank Epperson. At 6-2, 215 pounds, Garrett played in six games last season for the Jayhawks but was twice an all-state selection in Texas' Class 5A.
Also, it currently looks as though Marvin Gray is the likely candidate to replace Derrick Choice as the third backer, a position that under defensive coordinator David Gibbs' scheme needs plenty of mobility to be able to roam in coverage, while possessing enough size to step in and fill holes at the line. Gray, a safety by trade, saw time in four games last season in the secondary, but will bring both of those traits to the defensive side of the ball for the `Jacks this year.
Rodney Young and Nick Bryant are also a pair of highly-thought of sophomore linebackers who will get plenty of snaps as well. Both got broken in last season as freshmen and bring with them sideline-to-sideline range, in addition to size and instincts that will likely challenge the starters for playing time.
Others who will add to SFA's depth behind the defensive line include Justin Isadore and Cedric Barlow, as well as freshmen Jabalon Allen, Jordan Buton and Trevor Holmes. Isadore has seen the majority of his time on special teams in his first two seasons but possesses the ability to push for more playing time, while Barlow enters the year as the primary reserve behind Gray after getting into five games as a freshman in 2011.
Meanwhile, the freshmen class is headlined by Burton who was rated as one of the top 100 linebackers in the nation coming out of Longview High School, and Holmes who averaged over 12 tackles per game as a senior last season at Newton High School. Allen also makes his way to the roster this season after grayshirting last season following an all-state senior season at Frankston High School.
Aug. 9 - Quarterbacks
Aug. 10 - Running Backs
Aug. 13 - Wide Receivers
Aug. 15 - Offensive Line
Aug. 20 - Defensive Line
Aug. 21 - Linebackers
Aug. 22 - Defensive Backs
Aug. 24 - Special Teams