A Look at the 2007 Defensive Line
Aug. 21, 2007
NACOGDOCHES - A trial by fire, that may be the best way to describe what the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack defensive line faced in 2006. The jersey color this group should have received was green, not purple. That group consisted basically of athletes in their first season at the position. Let's break down last year's defensive line.
The 2006 D-Line consisted of names like Chris Bocard, Stormy Wingo, Ryan Mengo, Tim Knicky, Daimyeon Hoskin, Robert Mayes, Scott Dover and Robert Castillo. Last year's depth chart was made up of five freshmen, four of whom were true freshmen.
Now let's take a look at some of the "so-called" veterans on last year's line. Although he received plenty of action during his freshman season, Wingo was only a sophomore. Mengo earned a starting job coming out of fall camp, but transferred to SFA from the junior college ranks, while Dover had tons of starting experience during his first two seasons on campus, but that came on the offensive line. And Castillo can be labeled as a journeyman on the 'Jacks roster, playing a different position every year at SFA. A trend, for Castillo, that still continues as he has been moved back to the offensive side of the ball. Bocard had tons of potential, and was coming into his own, before and injury midway through the year not only ended his season, but his career.
Switching to a different cliché, I've also been told that `what doesn't kill you only make you stronger.' That particular phrase may be another way to describe the 2006 SFA defensive line. Despite all the injuries and inexperience, SFA battled through a tough 2006 schedule to become the best defense in the Southland Conference during league games.
"Any time guys get a chance to play on Saturday, they will come to understand what is expected of them at this level," said defensive coordinator Darren Drago. "It was definitely a trial by fire last year, but they did a great job and played hard. Obviously, they made some rookie mistakes, but we concentrate on making sure that we get the little things done right."
Despite the youthful miscues, the 'Jacks' defensive front was doing something right because SFA led the league in scoring defense (14.7 ppg), rush defense (120.5 ypg) and total defense (286.8 ypg). That stat becomes even more impressive due to the fact that by the time SFA got into conference play, the Lumberjacks were starting three freshmen on the line.
The one thing that gave SFA fans, and coaches, reason for concern last year just might be the exact same thing that gives them reason for celebration in 2007. Even with the experience of last year the defensive line is still very young. If you look at the early depth chart of fall practice, it does not consist of any seniors and only two juniors (Wingo and Mengo). The rest is a talent-laden sophomore class.
"We are a young veteran group," said Drago. "We are in a much better situation this year than we were last season, because a majority of the guys that we went through spring ball with were not the same ones who lined up on game day. To be able to coach a group that has some carry over, and understands what I expect on the field is encouraging. We're still a young group, so there is a lot of room for improvement."
The 'Jacks have several players in the mix fighting for a majority of the playing time at defensive end. Wingo brings the most experience to the group, and he'll be joined by sophomore Andre Hicks and 2006 honorable mention All-SLC selections Tim Knicky and Daimyeon Hoskin.
Wingo is a 6-3, 252, product from Angleton who has seen tons of action during his first two seasons on campus. Wingo is a versatile athlete who should see some time on the interior, as well as, on the edge.
"Stormy is kind of a swing guy for us," said Drago. "He has played both at tackle and end for us in the past, and he will do the same for us this year. He provides us with a bigger body on the end, plus he can provide some added athletic ability on the inside. Stormy really came on during conference play last year and we expect more of the same from him."
Arguably one of most talented, and most productive, walk-ons in the country last year, Knicky impressed the SFA coaching staff early during the 2006 fall camp. He quickly went from being an inexperienced rookie trying to earn a spot on the Lumberjacks' roster, to one of the top defensive lineman in the league. Knicky finished his freshman season with 30 tackles, including 14 solo stops. He was also among the league leaders in sacks and tackles for losses.
"I thought Tim did a great job during his freshman season," said Drago. "The great thing about Tim is he goes out everyday and tries to do things exactly the way we teach him. He is relentless on every play."
Hoskin is another athlete bidding for a starting role on the end. A transfer from Central Michigan, Hoskin made huge splash in his first season with the 'Jacks, recording 43 tackles, including three for losses, and two sacks. He earned honorable mention All-SLC honors for his work as a freshman.
"Daimyeon is one of the most talented players that I've been around," said Drago. "With Daimyeon we've focused on making sure we do things right every snap. If he can do that, I believe Daimyeon and Tim will be two of the better ends in this league."
Another member of the Lumberjacks' strong sophomore class is Andre Hicks. A 6-2, 225-pound product from Missouri City, Hicks also saw action on the defensive front in 2006 recording 12 tackles, including one for a loss.
"Andre played a lot for us last year as well," said Drago. " He is a guy that really plays bigger than he is. Andre is just another guy in our system that will go out and do things the way he is coached to do them."
The Lumberjacks also brought in another highly touted freshman, Kenneth Charles, whom Drago believes may have a similar impact during his rookie year to that of Knicky and Hoskin.
"Kenneth is a guy that I don't see how we are going to be able to keep him off the field," said Drago. "He is an unbelievable athlete, who was recruited heavily. I can see him coming along and being a real force as the season goes on. We feel very fortunate to have him on the roster, because he has come in and pushed some of the older guys."
Following a season-ending injury to Mengo in the third game of the season, Mayes was forced into the Jacks' starting lineup. Standing 5-10, 300 pounds, Mayes is one the strongest individuals on the team. Along with Mayes, Kendall Jernigan also saw plenty of action during his freshman season after Mengo's injury. If Mengo returns healthy for the 2007 season, SFA will have a solid trio in the middle of the field.
"Robert (Mayes) and Kendall (Jernigan) stepped in and played a ton last year," said Drago. "It is similar to our defensive ends, they made some mistakes, but they have worked hard at getting better. They stayed here during the summer getting stronger, and I expect them to continue to improve."
Mayes started seven games last year, including the final six of the season. He finished the year with 29 tackles, including six solo stops.
The return of Mengo, along with the fact that he was awarded a medical redshirt last season, should only make the 'Jacks' defensive line stronger. Although, Mengo has been cleared to play, the coaching staff is not rushing him into action.
"Having Ryan (Mengo) back is a tremendous addition to our line," said Drago. "He is still having some trouble with the injury, in terms of getting back to football shape, but he is a load in the middle. If he's healthy, he will be a tremendous asset for our defense."
The 'Jacks have a few other faces on campus that have thrown their hat into the ring for playing time, which includes a couple of freshmen and a defection from the offensive side of the ball. Britton Smallwood is a 6-3, 275-pound prospect from Canton, Texas, who has seen quite a few snaps during fall camp. Along with Smallwood, Brant Scott has had an impressive fall camp during his rookie season.
The Lumberjack coaching staff might also be looking to work some of the similar magic with Mike Davis this year, that it found with Scott Dover last season. After spending his first two years on the offensive line, Dover made the switch to defensive line during his junior season, and had a major impact. This year, the SFA coaching staff has given Davis a look on the defensive side of the ball.
"Davis is a senior who has been playing on the offensive line, but we tried him on the defensive line yesterday," said Drago. "We moved him over because we felt like he had some qualities that we could really use on the defensive line, in terms of his reaction and hard style of play. We want him to just line up and try and whip somebody."
It is still yet to be determined if the Lumberjack defense will be able to repeat its success from the 2006 season, but if it does, the 'Jacks defensive line will have a great deal to say about it.
The Lumberjacks will take part in their third and final scrimmage of fall camp Wednesday evening. The scrimmage is schedule to begin at 6 p.m. from Homer Bryce Stadium. It is free and open to the public.