By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
Don’t mess with success, coaches soon learn.
That’s why fans are not likely to see big changes in the defensive alignments for Concord University football this season.
A season ago, the Mountain Lions ranked seventh in NCAA Division II in passing defense, 11th in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.
“You always tweak things, year in and year out,” head coach Garin Justice said. “But we’ve had a lot of success. We’d be totally foolish to totally overhaul what we’re doing defensively. So, to the fan, it’ll look basically the same.”
Two former Bluefield High stars and a Mount Hope native will take the field on defense when Concord plays its first game Sept. 7 at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.
Linebacker Jake Lilly was named West Virginia Conference defensive player of the year, after leading the circuit in tackles for the last two years. His 126 tackles were the third-highest single-season total in Concord history. He was fourth in all of Division II in tackles per game and fifth in solo tackles per game.
Keith Ferguson, a key member of the Beavers’ 2007 and 2009 championship teams, is the likely starter this season at defensive tackle as a 274-pound junior. He started four of Concord’s last five games and ended 2012 with 15 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and one fumble recovery.
Will Greathouse, a 247-pound junior, is deployed at the nose tackle with the loss of a leader of the line, Josh Miller, after he used up his eligibility last season. Anthony Pyle weighs in at 249 pounds at defensive end. Justice said, “He should make a great impact for us.”
Justice said a week ago that Trey Preston and Ervin Moore were battling to start at rush end. The coach said, “Both those guys have played a lot of football for us, so we’re very confident about their ability.”
Lilly is back for his senior year, at weakside linebacker. Austin Dotson of Clintwood, Va., had the inside track to start at middle linebacker.
At outside field linebacker, Justice said, “It’s nice to have options.” He will choose from among Gary Saylor, Nick Spradlin, Logan Jenkins and Nick Ortiz.
The secondary is similarly deep.
Cornerback Riyahd Richardson, though injured part of the year, led the conference in interceptions and passes defended in 2012. He was 14th nationally in interceptions per game (five in 10 games).
He also had 13 pass break-ups, 28 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and half a sack. Richardson is Concord’s all-time leader in passes defensed and currently is fourth in career interceptions, with 10.
The South Carolina native made first-team All-WVIAC, second-team Daktronics All-Region and first-team Beyond Sports Network All-America accolades.
Another returnee, Mike Carey, subbed in capably when Richardson was injured. Jocorey Robins made the move in the spring from offensive back to cornerback and has impressed the coaches. Junior college transfers Shawn Billups and Jeremy Simpson are also in the mix at cornerback.
“Those five guys should play significant time for us at corner or a nickel position in the secondary,” Justice said.
Davon Marion, a junior from Mount Hope, provides big plays and leadership from his safety position, where the Mountain Lions also have depth. He made defensive player of the week during 2012, and finished with 83 tackles, 11th best in the conference.
Josh Clark is penciled in at the other safety.
Justice said, “Right on his heels, there are some good players. Brandon Rogers, a punt returner, a nice reserve, played a lot of corner and safety for us last year, (and) is back at that position.
He said newcomer Shawn Marmon “was a three-star recruit on Rivals and signed with New Mexico a couple of years ago.” Russell Bailey, a special teams standout, is also among the “five guys at safety that we feel very good about,” Justice said.
Lilly and Richardson were ranked 63rd and 86th best players in Division II, respectively, by D2Football.com recently. Both received first-team All-America honors at the end of 2012 from Beyond Sports Network (BSN), and both made the BSN preseason All-America lists in June.
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