"Countdown To Kickoff": The Linebackers
Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment of an eight-part series produced by the FSU Athletics Communications Office looking at different position groups as the Bulldogs prepare for their 2010 season opener on Friday, Sept. 3, at Hillsdale.
Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University football program has traditionally had its share of talented linebackers.
If all goes well, little should change this season.
Senior Matt Ryan (Howell) headlines a unit full of promise after an All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) campaign a season ago. The senior captain concluded the 2009 campaign with 124 total tackles, which ranked third in the conference and tied for eighth nationally. He tallied 54 unassisted tackles and 70 assisted stops to go with 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a quarterback hurry.
To say the least, the 6-2 Ryan made the most of his first season as a starter following an injury-riddled career.
"Matt's coming off an MVP season and is a high-energy player with good instincts," said FSU Defensive Coordinator Duane Wilson. "He's a throwback college football player who has the ability to serve as a coach on the field.
"He's an intelligent player and good athlete, which enables him to play the game well," he added.
While Ryan may fit the mold of recent past standouts such as Mike Klobucher, Kevin Noe, Jordan Moore and others, the Bulldogs will have to count on the services of a number of younger and talented competitors to help offset the loss of two starters from a year ago in Nick Butler and Chad Schoen.
Senior Kyle Fitzpatrick (Vestaburg) was a regular on the field last fall and earned the team's Crimson and Gold Spring Game Players Award for his efforts in spring drills, but his status could be a question mark after a preseason injury. He made five starts in '09 and claimed team Most Improved Defensive Player laurels after registering 53 tackles and 22 solo efforts. The 6-2 Fitzpatrick was the GLIAC Defensive Player of the Week after returning an interception 65 yards for a score in FSU's season-opening triumph over Tiffin in 2009.
"Kyle could be an all-league caliber player if healthy," Wilson said. "We were expecting him to have a big year and he's one of our fastest and most athletic linebackers who has also provided a solid contribution on special teams throughout his career."
With Fitzpatrick's status unknown, the Bulldogs may have to turn to either sophomore Tayo Moss (South Rockwood, Mich./Monroe St. Mary's) or sophomore Alex Brajak (Munster, Ind.) to help fill the outside linebacker void opposite Ryan.
Moss is coming off an outsanding spring and expected to be a quality linebacker with an athletic and energized presence, according to Wilson. He received the team's Bulldog Award for his intensity and effort in spring ball and played in five contests last fall while earning GLIAC All-Academic Team accolades.
Meanwhile, Brajak saw action in all 11 games in 2009 and netted 14 tackles, including nine unassisted efforts along with a recovered fumble. He was also a GLIAC All-Academic pick after a redshirt season in '08.
"Alex is a smart linebacker who plays the position well and earned valuable time with the top unit in the spring," said Wilson. "He's a heady-type player who knows the game and continues to improve his size and quickness."
The middle linebacker position figures to be filled by either sophomore Mike Elias (Ann Arbor/Huron) or redshirt freshman Max Banktson (Frankfort) with either possibly sliding to the outside if needed. The 6-2, 240-pound Elias played in the first six games in 2009 and made one start before an injury. He finished with seven tackles and a sack for a loss of six yards.
"Mike's an athletic and mobile linebacker with excellent size," Wilson said. "He's a big, fast and solid all-around athlete who's smart on the field."
A physical player with good tools, Banktson enjoyed a solid spring and is coming off a good redshirt year in the program. He should compete for significant time and has the ability to contribute as he continues to learn the collegiate game.
Behind those six on the two-deep, the Bulldogs have a host of promising youngsters although it remains to be seen how many and whom will see the field this campaign.
Sophomore Zachary Rosman (Stanwood/Morley-Stanwood) was moved from the secondary prior to fall camp and has some experience after playing in 10 games in 2009. He finished with 14 total tackles and seven solo hits a year ago en route to league all-academic kudos. Junior Joe Sams (Benton Harbor) has also been in the program for several seasons and may eventually find a role.
Additionally, redshirt freshmen such as Kyle Coburn (Gregory, Mich./Chelsea), Cam Howard (Traverse City/West) and Corbin Harrington (Greenville) could help supply depth as the year goes along. Ferris also brought in several freshmen as part of this year's recruiting class at the linebacker position.
"Overall, we've got a good group and a couple of guys who we hope can continue the tradition we have in the linebacking corps," said Wilson. "Hopefully, some of our younger guys will be able to come along and supply some depth."
Next Installment: The "Countdown To Kickoff" series concludes on Thursday (Sept. 2) with a look at both the secondary and the special teams.