Editor's note: More than 140 prospects are expected to report for football preseason workouts at Northeastern A&M on Tuesday, this article previews the defensive unit of coach Rob Green's Golden Norsemen.
While graduation took a huge chunk of the Northeastern A&M offense, experience abounds up front for the Golden Norse.
“We've got seven sophomores coming back on the front line and four of them saw considerable playing time as freshmen,” Green said. “Along with those guys, we've got eight guys working out at linebacker and three of them played a lot last year.”
Returning in the middle of the Golden Norse defensive front at tackles are John White, Jordan Nix and Terrill Jimoh.
White (6-4, 275 of Moore) led the Norsemen with 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus-59 yards. He ranked third on the team with 49 unassisted tackles and 45 assists while making two quarterback sacks for minus-10 yards.
Nix (6-3, 278 of Lawton McArthur) started seven games at nose tackle and recorded 18 solo tackles and 29 assists. He made three sacks for minus-17 yards.
Jimoh (6-0, 245 of Tulsa Union) made eight unassisted tackles and 13 assists.
“Coach Rhat (defensive coordinator Travis Rhatigan) and coach Green (defensive line coach Jared Green) put these guys through a very rigorous off-season weight program,” Green said. “So, not only do they have the size and strength, but they have the speed to go with it.”
Veteran Randy Tonche and transfer Jason Fitch are the ‘book' ends on the defensive front.
Tonche (6-4, 220 of Sallisaw) ranked eighth on the team as a freshman with 33 unassisted tackles, 26 assists, three tackles behind the line for minus-17 yards and three quarterback sacks for minus-34 yards, one deflected pass and one fumble recovery.
Fitch (6-3, 225 of Oklahoma City Star Spencer) joined the Golden Norsemen in January after originally signing with Texas Christian University.
Adding depth at the end position is transfer Michael Billingsley and redshirt freshman Allen Benson (6-3, 225 of Ardmore).
Billingsley (6-2, 220 of Oklahoma City) originally signed with Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwill.
“White (who signed with the University of Kansas two years ago), Nix (who originally signed with the University of Oklahoma) and Fitch are three legitimate D-1 players,” Green said. “They each are leaders in their own rights.
“We converted Gary Frazier from end to outside linebacker and he and Johnny (Row) give us upper 4.5 runners on the outside,” Green said. “Plus these two guys really like to hit.”
Row (6-1, 205 of Claremore-Sequoyah) recorded 24 unassisted tackles, 30 assists, one tackle behind the line for minus-6 yards and four quarterback sacks for minus-7 yards with one fumble recovery.
Frazier (6-1, 230 of Shawnee) made nine solo tackles and 12 assists in three games as a freshman.
Oklahoma all-starter Erich Foor (6-2, 185 of McAlester) will head a list of freshmen recruits along the defensive front seven.
Returning to the linebacking corps is Marcus Farmer (6-2, 245 of Stillwater). Farmer made 19 solo tackles and 20 assists in five games. He also made two tackles behind the line for minus-4 games and four sacks for minus-34 yards while blocking an extra point.
Challenging for playing time at linebackers are redshirt freshmen Matthew Cazenave (6-0, 215 of Tulsa Memorial), Isreal Jones (5-9, 208 of Broken Arrow), Keenan McCellan (6-1, 220 of Tulsa Washington) and Robert Spann (6-0, 215 of St. Petersburg, Fla.).
“Our first wave of recruiting we signed some very talented linebackers and defensive backs,” Green said. “We've got some defensive linemen that are Division I prospects that will come in among the 15 to 20 additional recruits we'll bring on campus Tuesday.”
Freshmen signees at linebackers are R. J. Bartley (6-0, 190 of Grove), Tim Clark (6-1, 195 of Del City) and Will Vinning (6-0, 190 of Bixby).
Although eight players participated in the Northeastern A&M defensive secondary during the spring, only two are returning starters.
“While we return both starters at the cornerback positions in the secondary, our safety positions remain wide open heading into the fall preseason” Green said.
Returning to the cornerback spots are veterans Abraham Woodard and Eric Williams. Woodard (5-11, 175 of Tulsa Memorial) returned an interception 31 yards last season while recording 20 unassisted tackles, 20 assists, one tackle behind the line of scrimmage for minus-12 yards. He also recorded three pass deflections and one fumble recovery.
Williams (5-10, 175 of Tulsa Union) also made one interception while creating 20 solo tackles, 15 assists and five pass deflections.
“Both these guys matured a lot as the year went on,” Green said. “Their maturity will go a long way in an otherwise inexperienced secondary.
“They both break on the ball real well and have good leaping ability and sure hands,” Green said. “They have worked hard to become all-around football players.”
Challenging for playing time in the Golden Norse secondary are redshirt freshmen Demarcus Davis (5-11, 180 of Guthrie), Jarrod Fields (5-9, 165 of Ardmore), Cleo Harris (6-1, 180 of Tulsa McLain), Jeffrey Johnson (6-0, 180 of Putnam City) and Nakeema Jones (5-9, 176 of Tulsa Central).
Four freshmen were signed to battle for positions in the secondary including Colton Gehrke (5-11, 170 of Grove), Sunny Law (5-10, 165 of Norman North), Curtis Williams (5-10, 175 of Lawton) and Isreal Williams (5-11, 170 of Anadarko).
While the secondary has some questions, there is no doubt that Green and his staff will start next season with a freshman placekicker and punter.
All-American placekicker and punter Jeremy Knott (6-4, 180, of Tulsa Union) transferred to North Texas State University in Denton.
“We'll have to spend some time developing our kicking game in the fall,” Green said. “We've got a couple of outstanding Oklahoma kickers out of Purcell and Edmond Memorial coming in that should fill our needs.”