Sophomore middle linebacker Colin Bohanek has been called Eastern Illinois’ “most consistent guy” by head coach Chris Wilkerson. (Photo by EIUPanthers.com)
By Dan Verdun
Eastern Illinois head coach Chris Wilkerson doesn’t mind sophomoric behavior. Not in this case anyway.
You see, three-fifths of EIU’s team captains are sophomores. It’s both a sign of the youthfulness of Wilkerson’s Panthers and a tribute to the trio of running back Jaelin Benefield, middle linebacker Colin Bohanek and safety Jordan Vincent.
“It’s definitely a great honor being respected by your teammates,” Bohanek said Thursday. “It’s awesome creating all the relationships and gaining that trust from everybody.”
It has also changed his role.
“I’m trying to teach more now that I’ve gained knowledge on the field,” he said. “I’m just trying to help everybody improve on the little things, not just with football (but) outside of football too.”
While Benefield missed last Saturday’s 37-34 double-overtime home loss to Lindenwood with an injury, Vincent and Bohanek each registered six tackles. Bohanek also had a quarterback hurry and an interception that he returned 20 yards.
The sophomore duo has combined for 39 career starts, including Vincent’s six in the COVID-spring 2021 season.
“We talk every single day,” Bohanek said of his relationship with Vincent, a Stevenson High School graduate. “It’s definitely helpful to have someone to lean on like that.”
While Vincent was a second team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection last fall and a preseason all-league nominee this year, Bohanek has yet to be recognized in such a manner.
Yet, his head coach has certainly noticed the player who wears No. 45.
“The most consistent guy in my mind is our middle linebacker, Colin Bohanek,” Wilkerson said. “He gets us lined up (on defense). He’s all over the field. He gives us great effort every single play. He has to play the run with tremendous intensity and certainly those guys have to fit into the passing game with all those RPOs (run-pass options). They’re put in conflict very often.
“Colin is a guy who continues to just show up and do his job.”
Despite playing through a series of ankle injuries this season, Bohanek ranks second in tackles for EIU. The Marist High School graduate leads team with six quarterback hurries and 4.5 TFLs. He also has two interceptions and one pass breakup.
“He just finds a way,” Wilkerson said. “He’s a hard hat, lunch pail guy. He’s an Eastern Illinois guy.”
This week’s opponent
Both Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State are 2-4 overall and 1-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference.
In its second season under Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL running back Eddie George, Tennessee State is led by transfer quarterback Draylen Ellis — who formerly played in the OVC for Austin Peay.
Junior Devon Starling and sophomore Jalen Rouse are the main ball carriers for the TSU offense. Seniors Zach Dobson and Cam Wyche are the top receiving targets.
The defense is led by linebacker Jahsun Bryant with 36 tackles, while defensive lineman Tadarrius Patterson has 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
(Kickoff: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: WEIU.net/HitMix)
Key matchup to watch:
Time of possession: Many modern football analysts downplay the importance of this statistic. Yet, in last Saturday’s home loss to Lindenwood, EIU’s defense was on the field for 94 plays while its offense had 57 snaps. The Panthers need much better balance to keep its injury-bitten defenders off the field for longer stretches.
What’s at stake?
A win gives EIU a 2-0 start in the OVC standings and allows the Panthers to remain in the hunt for a winning season.
EIU kicker Stone Galloway is 8-for-8 this season and has made 12
straight field goals dating back to last season. He is currently one of just four kickers in the FCS that are perfect on field goals this year. In addition, he leads that group with the most attempts. Galloway is also perfect on all 18 extra point attempts. He leads the team in scoring with 42 points . . . EIU and Tennessee State will be meeting for the 26th time as this year’s game will return to Nissan Stadium. The Panthers last played the Tigers in the downtown Nashville NFL stadium in 2017, a double-overtime EIU win . . . Eastern holds a 15-10 all-time lead in the series, but TSU has won the last two in the series and three of the last four meetings. Prior to a TSU win in 2018, EIU had won six straight against the Tigers.