If there were heavy losses on the defensive lines for all Frontier Conference teams this past spring, the same cannot be said for the linebackers.
Coming into the 2011 Frontier season, there are star linebackers at every turn. The position is crucial to defenses in the Frontier, especially with such balanced run and pass offenses around the league. And there’s no doubt that some of the best defensive players in the Frontier reside at linebacker.
In fact, of the eight all-conference backers last season, six are back for another year. And of the top 10 tacklers in the conference in 2010, six return, and all six are linebackers. So the position is truly the most star-studded of all defensive positions in the Frontier Conference, and fans will see linebackers all over the state make exciting plays all season long.
Here’s a look at the top returning linebackers in the Frontier Conference for 2011.
Carroll College is always loaded with linebackers and 2011 won’t be any different. But if there’s a team which will rival the Saints when it comes to its linebacking crew, it’s the Montana State University-Northern Lights.
Leading the way for the Lights is senior Landry See (5-11, 210). See was the leading tackler in the Frontier a year ago, racking up 128 stops on the season to go along with 4.5 sacks. But it isn’t just See’s athletic ability which has transitioned into already being a three-time all-conference selection, it’s his veteran leadership and poise which makes him stand out. See has started since the first game of his freshman season for the Lights, and he’s grown into one of the best defensive players Northern has had in some time. He also enters the 2011 season with plenty of preseason accolades, and is without question the best linebacker in the Frontier Conference.
But see has talent all around him too. A.J. Pasalo racked up 69 tackles last season, his first with the Lights, while former Havre Blue Pony Jordan Van Voast started nine games for Northern a year ago, and he blossomed, totaling 70 tackles. The Lights also got good production from Cole Brevig. But its two players stepping back into the spotlight which will give Northern immense depth at linebacker. Anthony Tate was injured in the first game of the season a year ago, but the former starter is back for another go at his senior year. Tate was highly touted coming into last season, and now that he’s fully healthy, he should have a big impact on the MSU-N defense. Northern also added Montana State transfer Jared Rohrback in the offseason. The former Bobcat and Class AA Defensive Player of the Year out of CMR should be ready to take the Frontier by storm this fall.
But as good as the Lights are at linebacker, the Saints boast an equally impressive group. Carroll returns a first-team all-conference selection in Rhakeem Harris, who will only be a junior this season. Harris is a terror in the middle, and standing 6-4 and weighing 250 pounds, he can be a one-man wrecking crew for the Saints. Also back is Thomas Robison (5-11, 204), Colton Shirley (6-1, 225) and Lynn Mallory (6-3, 245) meaning the Saints are still stacked in the middle of the defense, despite losing 2010 Frontier Defensive Player of the Year Thomas Dolan. Carroll also added former MSU-Northern all-american Stetson Koffman to its linebacker group this fall, so the Saints have some tremendous depth.
Eastern Oregon and Rocky Mountain College will also be strong up in the middle in 2011.
The Mounties return a pair of all-conference linebackers led by Marc-Avery Airhart. At 6-0 and 235 pounds, Airhart had a big junior campaign in 2010, totaling 98 tackles and four sacks. Howard McDonald (5-10, 211) is also back for his junior season for the Mounties. In 2010, McDonald earned second-team honors after registering a team-high 115 stops for the EOU defense.
RMC returns a star linebacker in junior Trenton Thelen (6-2, 235). Thelen, a former Montana State Bobcat, totaled 109 tackles last season for the Battlin’ Bears on his way to second-team all-conference honors. The Bears also return Steffan Blume (6-2, 220). Blume battled some injuries a year ago, but still managed 81 tackles, and he earned first-team all-conference honors back in 2009.
Montana Tech suffered some key losses at linebacker, but the Orediggers do return senior captain Kevin Schey (6-0, 235). The former Billings West standout has been a two-year starter for the Diggers’ and is poised for a big senior season. Former Chester/J-I standout Matt Wicks (6-2, 229) should also give the Diggers’ some toughness up front. Wicks has seen action in each of the last two seasons, and should be a main stay for Tech this fall.