Western Illinois will show of a new attacking style of defense Sept. 1 in its season opener at Tennessee-Martin. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)
By Barry Bottino
MACOMB – When Myers Hendrickson said last week that the strength of his first Western Illinois team’s defense would be its front seven, he spoke from experience.
In three years as head coach at NAIA Kansas Wesleyan, Hendrickson’s teams won 30 games using an aggressive, attacking defense. Last fall, KWU ranked sixth in the nation in sacks (36) and had an impressive 86 tackles for loss in 13 games. (The NAIA does not rank national TFL leaders.)
That attacking style has been a welcome fit for Western’s players.
“I’ve been here for three years, and I can say this defense allows me to play a lot faster without even thinking,” junior linebacker Juan DeLaCruz said during the team’s Aug. 16 media day event on campus. “It makes the defense a lot more explosive.”
The Leathernecks are certainly in need of a revamp on defense.
Last season, they allowed 38.82 points a game. Only 10 teams among the 123 schools in FCS allowed more per game.
That starts, according to Hendrickson, up front.
“We want to be able to stop the run and make an offense one-dimensional because I think we’ve got some of the best defensive backs out there,” he said. “That showed up (in our Aug. 15 scrimmage), with defensive backs making huge plays. Defensively, I think we can really put pressure on the quarterback.”
Senior cornerback J.J. Ross, the team’s top returning tackler with 35 stops and a team-best six pass breakups, said the secondary has been impressive in fall camp.
“This is one of the most talented back ends I’ve ever been around,” he said.
The Leathernecks will begin showing off their new scheme Sept. 1 at Tennessee-Martin in its season opener.
Senior defensive lineman Cam Washington, who played in 10 games last season, blossomed in the spring by showing off his versatility. He is expected to be a key member of the defensive front, and he welcomes the new attacking scheme.
“For us as players, it allows us to play a little more downhill,” Washington said. “We can play with an aggressive nature but still know everyone will do their job.”