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APSU football: Defensive line could be hidden strength

APSU Athletics Communications

By Colby Wilson

APSU Athletics Communications

Throughout fall camp, LetsGoPeay.com will take a look at each of the position groups as the Austin Peay State University football team goes through preparations for the 2019 season. Our final group, the defensive line, is replacing four starters from 2018 but bring back plenty of seasoned players. Who steps up? Who becomes the next great force up front for the Govs? Answering that question may be the key to the Govs season.  

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – There is a ton of experience up front for the Governor defense in 2019. Ten upperclassmen. Three Division I transfers. Two fifth-year players. The attention of Marques Lovings, the defensive line coach and associate head coach. There are plenty of reasons for optimism here.

Missing? A ton of time playing together.

Fifth-year senior Shaun Whittinghill has spent much of his Austin Peay career in crutches due to various maladies. Jequaries Martin just arrived from Middle Tennessee. John Wesley Whiteside sat out last season after transferring from The Citadel. Josephus Smith and Mason Harwell made just two appearances in 2018.

That’s a large portion of the stable of linemen Lovings has to choose from in 2019. But rather than apprehensive at the lack of experience, he’s excited at the sponge-like ability his players have displayed when it comes to absorbing information.

“It’s Catch-22,” Lovings said of the lack of tape on his guys. “I’m happy I get to mold them into what I want them to be, but until the lights come on you won’t necessarily know what you’re getting. But I have confidence in them and we’re going to prepare until the ball hits the tee.

“All this is brand new for a lot of guys. We’re doing this thing together and prepping for the first game. We’re trying to cover our bases and take care of the details.”

The ends are expected to be bookended by experience. Whittinghill, Matthew Gayle and Kwame Sutton all have made their mark along the Austin Peay line over the years. Gayle played all 11 games last season, recording 17 tackles, while Sutton (nine games, 10 tackles) and defensive tackle Marquise Griffin (10 games, eight tackles) also logged plenty of action in 2018.

Martin (redshirted at MTSU) and Terrell Lucas (graduate transfer from Duke) provide some FBS talent to the room, while Smith and Jaylen Moore bring their own experiences from both their time at Austin Peay and at previous stops at Miles College and Tusculum, respectively. After two limited seasons, Harwell has to be eager to showcase his talents in an expanded role.

And that leaves… the freshmen.

There are 10 freshmen on this defensive line. They come from as far away as Virginia (Dean Powell, the state’s 53rd-ranked recruit via 247Sports) and Maryland (Cameron Bailey) and as close as Hopkinsville (Elijah Rawlins, a redshirt). Five—Devin BurnsDerreion GreenleeDavid Russell IIIDarryl Rogan and Jau’von Young—are Tennessee boys. Add in Jamir Best, a Warner Robbins, Ga., product who helped Peach County High to the state championship game last season, and Caden McKinnis, a member of the Kentucky Best Bluegrass All-Star team, and you’ve got a cacophony of talent on deck for the next four seasons in Clarksville.

2019 Returnees / 2018 Stats

Matthew Gayle (R-Jr.) / 11 games, 17 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 QBH
Marquise Griffin (Sr.) / 10 games, 8 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 QBH
Mason Harwell (R-Soph.) / 2 games
Jaylen Moore (R-Sr.) / 5 games, 3 tackles, 1.0 TFL
Elijah Rawlins (R-Fr.) / Redshirt
Josephus Smith (R-Jr.) / 2 games, 1 tackle, 1.0 TFL
Kwame Sutton (Soph.) / 9 games, 10 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 QBH
John Wesley Whiteside (Jr.) / Redshirt
Shaun Whittinghill (R-Sr.) / 1 game, 2 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FR

2019 Newcomers

Cameron Bailey (Fr.)
Jamir Best (Fr.)
Devin Burns (Fr.)
Derreion Greenlee (Fr.)
Terrell Lucas (Sr. – Duke transfer)
Jequaries Martin (R-Jr. – Middle Tennessee transfer)
Caden McKinnis (Fr.)
Dean Powell (Fr.)
Darryl Rogan (Fr.)
David Russell III (Fr.)
Jau’von Young (Fr.)

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