If it’s difficult to recognize some of the names playing linebacker for Southeastern Louisiana football this season, you aren’t the only one.
The Lions graduated four linebackers, including two starters, from a unit that lead the way in producing an FCS Top 10 defense for Southeastern last season. Seniors Drew Mista, Isiah Corbett and Kaleb Muse accounted for nearly a quarter of the defense’s total tackles in 2014.
This season, the linebacker corps has a total of two starts among them, both of which belong to senior middle linebacker Herbert Harris. He’ll start this season alongside fellow senior Dereck Robinson and junior-college transfer Antreon Bennett.
And while Southeastern coach Ron Roberts isn’t worried about the lack of experience at the linebackers, that fact hasn’t slipped past him.
“It’s the one position where there’s a lot of guys who are unproven,” Roberts said. “You can’t beat your chest and do stuff until you prove it on the field.
“Right now, that’s probably the only position where we’re not two deep with guys who have experience and have been in the fire.”
Both Harris and Robinson played in every game last season; Harris had 54 tackles and a sack and forced a fumble Robinson had 29 tackles, including 5.5 tackles behind the line.
Roberts said Bennett had a strong spring and fall camp and is picking up the system quickly. He’s credited with 51 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery in two seasons at Holmes Community College (Mississippi).
T.J. West is the last of the Lions’ senior linebackers. He had a strong showing at the team scrimmage to end fall camp Saturday, taking a fumbled handoff 82 yards for the only defensive score.
Junior Caleb Young is the only other linebacker to have game experience from last season. He played in seven games, recording nine tackles.
The Lions have four freshmen linebackers, including former Landry-Walker standout Sean Clavelle, who was listed as Robinson’s backup at right outside linebacker after spring camp.
“It all boils down to hard work,” Harris said. “At the end of the day, everybody has to put in the work to peak where you want to peak at, regardless of experience.”
Even with the lack of experience, the linebackers are confident they’ll be able to repeat as one of the Southland’s top defenses this season.
Players like Harris and Robinson learned a lot watching the previous generation lead the team and realize it’s their time to do the same.
“All of those guys who left us were great leaders. They taught us everything we needed to know,” Robinson said. “It’s just time for us to step up and be the leaders that we’re able to be.
“(The coaches) say linebackers are what starts the defense off and brings momentum to the defense. We have to do that.”