Tribe football team has defensive experience despite losing veterans

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

WILLIAMSBURG – William and Mary senior outside linebacker Marcus Harvey believes the lack of starting experience at his position can be as positive as it is one of the glaring questions as the Tribe's season opener approaches.

There are questions in the secondary, too, for the Tribe, which lost two defensive players to the NFL from last season. Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson was a sixth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears and linebacker Luke Rhodes signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lineman Tyler Claytor, safety Jared Velasquez and linebackers Zach Fetters and Ian Haislip were also among the key defenders lost from a team that claimed a share of the CAA title and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs.

"I think that's also a positive thing because they're hungry for it," Harvey said of players seizing new roles. "They have a chip on their shoulder. I know as a unit we have a lot of questions about us and I think we're excited to answer."

Harvey, still somewhat of an unproven commodity on Saturdays because of injuries, will be one of the leaders of the defense along with classmate Peyton Gryder, a defensive end, and senior cornerback Trey Reed.

Finger and hamstring injuries, both of which required surgeries, have limited Harvey throughout his career. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Great Falls product finally made it through an offseason unscathed after starting six of the eight games he played in last year.

He said the injuries haven't made him the least bit tentative. Just the opposite, actually.

And though three senior linebackers were lost from last season, the group returned three more in Harvey, Stephen Lubnow and middle linebacker Matt Vlissides. Lubnow started five games last season and he and Vlissides appeared in each contest. Sophomore Josh Dulaney is also back after starting twice in seven games in 2015.

In an interview Tuesday with Tribe Athletics TV, defensive coordinator Trevor Andrews also credited redshirt freshman Nate Atkins of Roanoke and freshman Arman Jones of Chesapeake for having strong camps.

"They know how to run the defense," Andrews said of the three senior linebackers. "They're just getting their shot right now."

Gryder also named Virginia Tech transfer Quinton Taylor a potential contributor at linebacker. Taylor, of Chester, saw action in two games last season for the Hokies as a junior.

Gryder's defensive unit is younger, but more experienced with juniors Isaiah Stephens (tackle) and Matt Ahola (end) both returning as starters.

Reed, one of four co-captains along with Gryder and quarterback Steve Cluley and running back Kendell Anderson, will look to fill Houston-Carson's leadership.

It's clear no single player will be able to fill what Houston-Carson, a consensus first team All-America, did on the field.

"We have to understand we won't have a DeAndre in there making plays all the time," Laycock said. "We have to have other people making plays."

"That has been the biggest emphasis since last season ended for us," Gryder said. "Going through spring ball, you kind of see that. You recognize some leadership roles have changed. Losing guys like that – It's a lot of production on the field and it's a lot of setting the tone off the field.… That's kind of where guys like me, Cluley, the captains and even more so, the seniors in general, have to step up and increase their leadership role."

Junior Aaron Swinton returns at cornerback after missing most of last season with an injury and Denzel Dykes will also be in the mix after starting eight games last season.

Junior Mike Barta, who started three times last year, and classmate, Richie DiPietro, are dueling for one safety spot.

Redshirt freshman Corey Parker, a converted corner, is expected to fill in at strong safety.

Although questions surrounding the defense will continue until the Sept. 1 opener at N.C. State, Andrews and Harvey each are confident last year's outgoing defensive group imparted its tenacity on the 2016 returners.

Harvey said, "They showed us last year the blueprint for what it takes to make a conference championship team."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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