Over the next couple of weeks, the Catamount Sports Network and CatamountSports.com will feature positional previews of the 2016 Catamount football team. Each feature will contain the position write-ups from the 2016 Western Carolina media guide, and Catamount Sports Network All-Access video highlights and interviews with the position coach and student-athletes.
2016 Catamount Football Position Preview: the Linebackers
In the middle of Western Carolina’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme are the linebackers, who are coached by a familiar face. Former WCU linebacker Chris Collins returns to Cullowhee to lead the position in which he played in the Purple & Golf from 2006-09. The Catamounts return two of the best in the Southern Conference in senior Tyson Dickson and redshirt junior Daniel Riddle, who led the team – and the conference – with 129 tackles in 2015.
Riddle has been a three-time SoCon Defensive Player of the Week over his first two seasons, and was dubbed first team All-SoCon by the media and a second team selection by the coaches last fall. A very heady player and veritable student of the game, he has averaged 8.83 tackles per game in his first two seasons.
Dickson – a 2015 second team All-SoCon selection by the media – started all 11 games and recorded a career-best 96 stops last fall including 10.5 tackles for loss, a mark that ranked him tied for fourth in the SoCon. He matched a school-record with five TFL’s in the road win at Wofford. Dickson has averaged 5.82 tackles per game over his career, entering his final season with 163 career stops.
Dickson is joined by classmate – and fifth-year senior – Coleman Cunningham, who received some of the best news during the 2016 preseason. A walk-on from Cornelia, Ga., Cunningham was granted a full scholarship by head coach Mark Speir midway through preseason camp as a reward for his hard work and dedication. Cunningham was notified of the scholarship award during a team meeting.
The Catamounts will look to players like juniors A.J. Newman, Chris Seaborn, and Kendall White and sophomore Mitchell Chancey who played in eight games as a true freshman in 2015 for added depth. Newman headlines the reserves with 21 career games played, and he ranked tied for fourth on the WCU squad with 68 tackles in 2015 to give him 88 career stops. The others have a combined d31 tackles over 31 games played over the past two seasons, garnering valuable experience.
All told, WCU lost a combined seven players off its 2015 preseason linebacker listing including seniors A.J. McKoy (59 career tackles in 45 career games) and Damian Whitaker (24 career tackles in 30 games played), as well as reserves in Hassan Belton and Kris Smith. Other losses at the position from the 2015 preseason include Jay Gibbs moving to defensive line and local product Spencer McCoy flipping to tight end.
WCU adds redshirt freshmen Michael Minder and Jerod Walls into the linebacker mix, as well freshmen Andrew Birkmire (Oviedo, Fla.), Curtis Roach (Cumming, Ga.) and Kyle Vails (Richands, N.C.). Each look to factor in backing-up Dickson and Riddle and will compete for playing time.
ADDITIONAL LINEBACKERS NOTES:
• WCU’s top two tacklers from a season ago were both linebackers – Daniel Riddle with 129 stops and Tyson Dickson with 96, combining for 225 of WCU’s 1,042 total tackles – roughly 22-percent of the tackles … the Catamounts return both leading tacklers from 2015 with A.J. Newman ranking among the overall leaders as well;
• Daniel Riddle posted double-digit tackles in nine of WCU’s 11 seasonal games in 2015 and concluded the regular season ranked seventh in the country in overall tackles per game (11.7).
WCU Football 2016 Position-by-Position Preview (tentative schedule):
Offensive Line - WATCH
Defensive Line - WATCH
Tight Ends - WATCH
Linebackers - ABOVE
Wide Receivers - Aug. 18
Special Teams - Aug. 19
Running Backs - Aug. 22
Defensive Backs - Aug. 23
Quarterbacks - Aug. 24