Defense drops the hammer

Danny Schoenbaechler

Running the ball and defense: these are the staples of Western football. While the running game is unproven, the Hilltopper defense is loaded with talent and experience.

David Elson’s defense dominated some of Division I-AA’s top offenses during the playoff run last year, but Elson has moved up from defensive cordinator.

His replacement, Don Martindale, sees no reason to alter the defensive machine that Elson has built.

“Nothing is going to change,” Martindale said. “We won’t try and reinvent the wheel.”

Martindale will keep the Toppers’ 3-4 base defense, which has been successful over the past few years.

The true jewel of the defense is up for debate. The linebackers have three experienced players and talented headliners.

While the defensive backs have six starter-quality players and have the best depth on the team.

Charles Thompson, a 6-foot-1-inch 250 pound junior, recorded 159 tackles last season as an inside linebacker. That was good enough to lead the team and finish third in the Gateway Conference.

His fellow inside linebacker will be Erik Dandy. The 6-foot 205-pound Dandy missed the second half of last season because a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He is ranked among the top 10 linebackers in I-AA by The Sports Network. He managed to record 90 tackles in seven games last year and 155 tackles as a sophomore in 2001.

Replacing Dandy last year was 6-foot-1-inch 225-pound senior Karl Maslowski. He racked up 95 tackles, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Maslowski will now move to outside linebacker with Dandy back.

“We do have three proven linebackers,” Martindale said. “And I think Karl will be just as effective outside as he was inside.”

It has been nine months since Dandy hurt his knee during a midweek practice. Martindale said that Dandy is right on schedule.

“I don’t want to say he’s back 100 percent,” Martindale said. “I think it will take him a couple of games for that.”

The fourth linebacker will be Indiana transfer Deonte Smith.

The defensive backs are led by captains Jeremy Chandler and Antonio Veals.

Chandler is also the defensive captain.

The senior cornerback had five interceptions and is the headliner of a deep pool of corners.

“We’ve got a lot of experience,” Chandler said. “I think we’ll have a lot of big plays.”

He is joined by Carl Birts, Dennis Mitchell and Darius McCrimmon.

“Jeremy Chandler is just as solid as can be, and Dennis Mitchell really adds good depth at corner,” Elson said.

Martindale said he believes all four corners are good enough to start.

Providing deep help will be Veals and Antonio Thomas. Thomas was originally a corner but converted during the preseason. Veals is ranked the sixth best safety in I-AA by The Sports Network.

The inexperienced part of the defense is the defensive line.

Chad Kincaid, Getty Cavitt, Kinnius Paul and Irele Oderinde will all be helping to fortify the line.

“We only have a couple of guys on the line with experience but I think they’ll be fine,” Chandler said. “They all know what they have to do.”

The road back to the playoffs will be tough, but the defense should be steady enough to keep the Toppers in every game.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]