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2018 Villanova Football Preview: A look at the linebackers

The Wildcats continue to enjoy great continuity at the linebacker position.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Temple Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

To help count down to the start of the 2018 football season and the Sept. 1 showdown between Villanova and Temple, we will highlight and breakdown each position on the Wildcats’ football roster. We’re continuing our look at the Wildcat defense by examining the ‘Nova linebackers.

Other Previews: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide Receivers | Offensive Line | Defensive Line


Returnees

#58 Jeff Steeb (6-0, 210) RS Sr.
#35 Joseph Sotomayor (6-0, 225) Sr.
#52 Drew Wiley (6-1, 240) RS Jr.
#11 Keeling Hunter (6-0, 225) Jr.
#54 Tyler Von Nessen (6-0, 205) Jr.
#29 Amin Black (5-9, 235) So.
#33 Trajan Anderson (6-0, 235) So.
#43 Forrest Rhyne (6-1, 225) So.
#44 Josh Patrick (6-0, 250) So.
#53 Patrick Reed (6-3, 200) So.

Departures

Ed Shockley (5-11, 235)
Gregg Kobelski (6-0, 205)

Newcomers

#31 Qwashin Townsel (6-0, 215) -- Egg Harbor Township, N.J./St. Joseph
#48 Owen Thomas (6-4, 230) -- Lansdale, Pa./North Penn


Despite graduating their leading tackler from last season, the Villanova Wildcats’ linebacker core should still be in good hands.

Recent graduate Ed Shockley became just the second Wildcat since 2011 to log at least 100 tackles in a single season. (The other being 2016 graduate Don Cherry, who did so in 2014.)

While Shockley won’t be around, the Wildcats do bring back fifth-year senior Jeff Steeb, who is the Wildcats’ top returning tackler. Through 11 games last season, he logged 91 tackles and led Villanova in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (5). He also had one interception to his name.

Since taking a starting role in 2016, he’s been one of the Wildcats’ top tacklers. He is a very physical player, one that’s been in the mold of recent Villanova linebackers. Steeb is a hard hitter with great speed, one that’s usually bound to get opposing ballcarriers once he’s locked onto a target. He has great closing speed and loves laying down a good hit. Equipped with a 4.6 second 40-yard dash and great football IQ, he has the potential of being an All-Conference type player this season. He’s a fitting captain for the Wildcats and will certainly be one of the leaders on defense. It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll place the exclamation point on his career at ‘Nova.

Starting alongside Steeb is the junior tandem of Drew Wiley and Keeling Hunter. They showed great promise in their underclassmen years, and they shared the third linebacker spot last season. Now that Shockley has graduated, that opens up the way for both of them to start. Whenever they took the field last season, they each made the most of their snaps.

Hunter tallied 51 tackles, three for loss, and a sack last season. He also led Villanova in interceptions, with four picks--one of which, he returned for a touchdown against Lafayette. Hunter is great at reading and reacting to opponents’ plays and is a high-motor player. He’s only gotten better with each passing season and it’s likely this one can be a big year for him, since he’ll be a full-time starter.

The same can be said for Wiley. Wiley, a redshirt junior, is the older brother of Jeff--a sophomore defensive end that’s expected to miss the whole 2018 season. Wiley is a good hitter and excels at stopping run plays. He moves well along the field. He’s a smart football player that makes the right play, much like the other two linebackers that will start with him. Last season, Wiley posted similar numbers to Hunter. He finished the year with 50 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.

Also keep an eye out for sophomore Trajan Anderson, who’s moving back to his natural position. Anderson, a three-star prospect (per 247 sports) and a top 10 linebacker in the state of Virginia coming out of high school, was the highest-rated defensive recruit in that class of 2017. He spent all of last season as a defensive end, appearing in all 11 games and logging 10 tackles. He is likely to get a good amount of playing time this season off the bench and might be the next star linebacker in a couple of seasons. It appears that his classmates also have shown a ton of promise on the gridiron, with Forrest Rhyne, Josh Patrick, and Amin Black bound to also see the field in some capacity this season. This sophomore group of linebackers have generated some buzz.

Apart from the returners, Villanova welcomes two new linebackers--Qwahsin Townsel (Egg Harbor Township, N.J./St. Joseph) and Owen Thomas (Lansdale, Pa./North Penn). Both Townsel and Thomas were studs that excelled on both sides of the field in high school. Townsel starred as a running back and linebacker, while Thomas was a standout tight end when he wasn’t playing defense.

It seems like Villanova will continue to bring out talented players at this position. The Wildcat linebackers should be good this year and for the seasons to come.