TERRE HAUTE —
No matter who was coach, no matter what system was implemented, and no matter whether Indiana State’s football team was winning or losing, one thing could be counted on for the Sycamores from 2004 to 2012.
There was at least one linebacker on the field for ISU that had achieved no worse than honorable-mention all-conference honors.
While ISU strived, often in vain, for consistency among the other units on the field, the linebacking corps was safe harbor for the Sycamores.
From LaDrelle Bryant and Doc Gooden in Tim McGuire’s final season, to Andy Jones and Shonda Faulkner during the Lou West era, to the trifecta of Ryan Roberts, Aaron Archie and Jacolby Washington during Trent Miles’ tenure, ISU could go toe-to-toe with any Missouri Valley Football Conference team in the middle of its defense.
That streak is going to be tested to the limit this season. Archie (now a linebackers coach) and Washington closed out definitive careers last season, along with Dillon Painter, another solid linebacker who filled in as a starter. ISU’s other starter, Tarris Batiste, transferred to be with Miles at Georgia State. On 2012 production alone, those four took 296 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and three sacks out the door with them.
The pipeline of experienced linebackers has finally gone dry for the Sycamores. It will be up to a junior college transfer and a youthful new group to prime the pump anew.
“We’re not real deep and it’s a young group, but I think we have some good young players in that group,” ISU coach Mike Sanford said.
ISU’s cause hasn’t been helped as one projected starter — junior college transfer T.J. Tuuu — has been injured for much of preseason camp.
Tuuu, who came to ISU from Monterey, Calif., Peninsula College, was one of the most valued players in Sanford’s first group of recruits.
“We like him because he plays very fast. He’s a high-motor, fast-playing guy. He’s very athletic,” Sanford said. “He’s banged up right now. We’re not sure what’s happening with him now. He’s questionable right now as far as whether he’s ready to play.”
Because Sanford’s defense will have similarities to Miles’ defense, there are hybrid players who will play as linebackers who are listed as defensive linemen.
Connor Underwood — who was an all-MVFC honorable-mention selection as a defensive lineman — fits that description, as does Zakee Bashir. Both play as stand-up defenders at times during games.
As far as traditional linebackers, Kendal Walker — who spelled Washington at an outside linebacker spot in 2012 — has the most experience. Walker, a sophomore, had 10 tackles in 2012.
“Its been hard. We’ve been working together, but we’re all pretty young. We’re all helping each other out. It helps that we’re all at the same starting point. We’re all going through the ups and downs,” Walker said.
Gerrick Ratliff, another sophomore, has emerged as another possible starter. He had an assisted tackle in 2012. Sophomore Jess Harris, who had two tackles in 2012, is also in the mix. Isaac Beverstock, a true freshman who converted to linebacker from running back, could start in Tuuu’s place if Tuuu can’t go against Indiana on Thursday.
“We have some big shoes to fill. It’s cool to see how we work together and strive toward the goal of winning. It’s been a challenge. A lot of us don’t know the pace of college football yet,” Beverstock said.
Among the newcomers who could emerge are redshirt freshman George Stone and true freshman Jordan Jackson. Junior college transfer Nick Cody, a late signing, could also be a factor.
Projected starters: Kendal Walker, So.; Gerrick Ratliff, So.; T.J Tuuu, Jr. or Isaac Beverstock, Fr.
In relief: Zakee Bashir, Sr.; Nick Cody, Jr.; Ian Allen, So.; Jess Harris, So.; George Stone, RFr.; Castille Bayers, Fr.; Jordan Jackson, Fr.; Connor Toohey, Fr.
Defensive coordinator: Brian Cabral.
Position coach: Cabral and Aaron Archie.
* denotes returning starter