By: Chris Bendel – Sports Editor
Behind Dayton football’s quest to validate the team’s pre-season selection as the No. 2 team in the Pioneer League exists a narrative of excellence and a pipeline of standout linebackers.
The team’s linebacker unit will once again help drive the success of the Dayton defense for the 2014 season, set to kick off at home Saturday, Sept. 6 against Georgetown University.
Head coach Rick Chamberlin, who also oversees the team’s linebackers as the unit’s position coach, welcomes back a decorated and experienced linebacker corps, a group that said they are excited to test their mettle compared to linebackers of past Dayton Flyer teams.
The Flyers have had a First Team All-PFL linebacker every season since 1995, the most recent being Colin Monnier. No linebackers from the 2014 team received a pre-season All-PFL selection.
The Flyers must replace the presence of Monnier, a two-time captain and First Team All-PFL linebacker who anchored the team’s defensive units over the last two seasons.
The fifth two-time captain in school history, Monnier was the only defender to start every game in 2012 and 2013, while amassing a team-leading 105 tackles for the Flyers last year.
Senior linebacker Sean Sward said the Flyer defense lost a vocal leader in Monnier and likewise, the 2014 linebackers take more of a group approach to the leadership of the defense. Anyone from the group can take on the vocal leadership role on any given day.
“You have to be vocal to be a linebacker,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Chris Beaschler said. “If you’re not vocal, you just can’t do it.”
A linebacker is in charge of putting everyone in their correct spots, added junior linebacker Ryan Schwenke.
Beaschler said he also understands the reality of college athletics’ personnel churn.
“You’re always going to lose star players,” Beaschler said. “That’s the whole idea behind college football. You lose them every year but you have to replace them and someone else has to step up.”
Schwenke returns to play the Flyer position, a hybrid linebacker role for the Dayton defense. The Flyer position mirrors the responsibilities of a strong side linebacker, with the freedom to move around outside of the tackle box and create different looks for opposing Pioneer League offenses.
In 2013, Schwenke started all 11 games for the Flyers and logged 56 tackles. He also recorded three interceptions.
Beaschler, who was second on the team with 83 tackles in 2013, also returns.
Sward and senior Mitch Sanders round out the middle of UD’s 4-3-4 defense, with senior linebacker Mike Laduizio, who appeared in four games for the Flyers last season, slotted for work in the Dayton defense’s nickel package.
The middle group in Dayton’s 4-3-4 defensive scheme, the three linebackers on the field at a given time must take on many different roles for the defense.
At every level of football, linebackers, known for a tendency to deliver knockout, highlight reel hits must roam from sideline to sideline.
Linebackers have to do it all, Schwenke said, from taking on blocks from opposing offensive lines to running with receivers down the seams.
“What makes the linebacker so unique is the fact that we have such a big responsibility in both the run and the pass game… we’re in coverage, we’re on slots, and then we’re also sticking our nose into [the opposing team’s line],” Beaschler said.
A linebacker also needs a certain sense of confidence to play the position.
“You’re not going to be any good if don’t have that confidence. A linebacker needs that edge,” he said.
A strong sense of camaraderie motivates the group where competition could create distance between the players if not for the mutual respect among them.
“Everyone’s trying to earn a spot. Pretty much everyone feeds off of each other’s fire,” Schwenke said.
Sward added, “We’re all helping out people, we’re all talking.”
Come the heat of the PFL race, the league might be talking about the Dayton linebackers yet again. Standing on the shoulders of those at the linebacker position before them, the 2014 corps seems poised to carry on the tradition.