A defense which topped the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in scoring defense, total defense and passing yards per game in 2016 will look to repeat that kind of effort as a new-look unit in 2017.
Last fall, Ashland University's "D" gave up just 15.1 points, 297.5 total yards and 186 passing yards per contest. That group yielded single-digit rushing yards three times, gave up less than 100 passing yards three times and kept four opponents to less than 200 yards of total offense.
There will be some new faces on Ashland's defense in 2017, as the team's top three tacklers (inside linebackers Brandon Gency and Zach Olszewski and safety Terrell Hudson) and three of its top four players in the sack column are gone. The good news is there is plenty of experience remaining to take another run at being one of the top defenses in the GLIAC.
Ashland's secondary is filled with veteran performers, led by senior cornerbacks Dale Irby and Michael Griffin, and senior corner/safety Makai Veasley. Veasley was fourth on the team a year ago with 55 total tackles, and was tied for the team lead with four pass breakups, while Irby (21 tackles, one interception) and Griffin (36 tackles, four breakups) provide stability at their starting spots.
Vying for time at both safety and rover will be sophomores Nick Powers and Cedric Frierson, juniors Isaiah Stiverson and Vince Hill, and senior transfer Kevin Bourne, who posted 67 total tackles and two interceptions last season at NCAA Division I Kent State.
Along the line, senior Austin Utter moves over from defensive end to stud after tying for the team lead in sacks with 6½ in 2016. The other starting veteran is senior Harrison Hoppel (25 total tackles, four for loss), who moves from defensive tackle to nose tackle. The frontrunners for the other two starting spots are junior defensive end James Prater Jr. (22 tackles, two sacks) and junior defensive tackle Brandon May.
The second level of the Eagle defense will see new starters at inside linebacker, most likely out of a group which includes sophomore Clay Shreve, senior Tre'Vontae Jackson, sophomore and former defensive end Tristan Reichelderfer and junior Cameron Barker, who primarily has been a fullback so far in college.