In the days leading up to the season opener at Connecticut, we will be previewing all the position groups for this year's Villanova football team. The full schedule can be found at the bottom of this post.
Villanova has been building this linebacker unit for a while and now they're entering the 2015 season with one of the most stacked units in FCS. Everyone in the linebacker two-deep is a returning player and the 'Cats are prepared to show off their wealth of talent this season.
The linebacker corps features a former Jerry Rice Award (top freshman - FCS) award finalist as well as the runner-up in last season's Buck Buchanan Award (best defensive player - FCS) voting.
The star of the linebacker corps is last years' Buck Buchanan Award runner-up, Don Cherry. The Wildcat linebacker is a favorite to take home that award this season, and was one of the most active defensive players in the nation last season. As a junior, Cherry led the 'Cats in tackles (134), tackles for loss (21.5), sacks (10), and forced fumbles (5). He was named the CAA's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year this summer, and is expected to again be a force in the middle of the defense.
Backing him up, look for Ed Shockley, a sophomore, to step up as needed. In 13 games last season, Shockley had 34 tackles (5 for loss) and one sack. He is a strong tackler with good instincts to play the middle linebacker position.
Likely starters at outside linebacker are Austin Calitro and Corey Majors.
Calitro is a talented and versatile player who moved between defensive line and linebacker from week-to-week last season, depending on where he was needed most. He performed well in both spots and demonstrated the ability to be a playmaker for the defense. He recorded 33 tackles (2.5 for loss), one interception and one pass breakup in 2014. He may be challenged for playing time by fifth-year senior Dillon Lucas, who returns to the Wildcats with a reputation as a productive player who has been slowed by injuries, including a season-ending injury on an interception-return at Delaware last season.
After missing most of last season due to injury, Majors returns to the field in 2015. He was a highly-touted recruit for the Wildcats, who has blossomed into a key player for the defense. He had 15 tackles in 10 games for the Wildcats in 2013, including six tackles against Towson. The former Big 33 selection only got into two games last year before an injury sidelined him the rest of the way, however. He's expected to be another playmaker for the defense this Fall.
Junior T.J. White will also offer depth at the outside linebacker spot. He is a veteran player who appeared in all 14 games in 2014, recording seven tackles. He is a hard worker who is ready to take on a bigger role this Fall.
Villanova also has freshmen linebackers Drew Wiley and Anthony Malaguti, who both come out of successful high school careers. While the hope is likely that neither will be pressed into service this season, the depth of talent is very strong with this unit.
2015 Villanova Football Preview Schedule