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Eastern Michigan LBs + ST: New Faces Across the Board
New linebackers, new punters, and new kickers.
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This is the second-to-last of the positional previews for this year’s EMU football team, and we’re going to talk both defense and special teams today. New faces across the linebacker and special teams positions, but the competition with its newcomers has given EMU plenty to feel good about so far.
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EMU 2022 Positional Previews: Linebackers
Eastern Michigan doesn’t use a lot of linebackers when its defense hits the field, but the two who do end up starting in the 4-2-5 have to also act as the unit’s general. Whether it’s making big stops against the run, come through with the loudest hits, or making sure teammates are in their correct spots, these linebackers have a lot on their plates.
EMU’s linebacking corps in 2021 was led by seniors Terry Myrick and Tariq Speights. Myrick, from Georgia, was with EMU for his whole college career, dating back to his nine games played as a true freshman in 2017. Myrick led the Eagles in tackles made during the 2020 season (67), but it was Speights who led EMU in that category last year (90).
Behind those two, EMU’s best up-and-comer in the linebacker room was Justin Jefferson, a 2020 signee who played a lot of defensive line in high school.
For the defense as a whole, EMU’s been trying to get back to its 2017 and 2018 levels of play when it was top-2 defense in the MAC by total defense and scoring defense. Since then, EMU’s been in the bottom-half of the MAC in those categories.
After the season, Myrick graduated with 260 career tackles made (108 solo, 17 for loss, 5 sacks), 5 passes defended, two fumbles caused, and three fumbles recovered. After graduation, Myrick found a professional job playing in the USFL for the Michigan Panthers where he notched 48 total tackles as a rookie.
LB, Matthew Buschman 2021: 11 games, 13 tackles (7 solo), 1 fumble recovery
LB, Luke Cameron 2021: 13 games, 19 tackles (10 solo, 1 TFL)
LB, Justin Jefferson 2021: 12 games, 20 tackles (9 solo), 1 QB hurry
LB, Terry Myrick 2021: 13 games, 85 tackles (39 solo, 3 TFL, 1 sack), 2 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery
LB, Steven Scheidt 2021: 2 games, 3 solo tackles
LB, Tariq Speights 2021: 90 tackles (18 solo, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack), 2 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry, 1 forced fumble
After Terry Myrick’s graduation, EMU went transfer portal shopping to replace him and get another starter to play in front of a returning starter this year, thus adding more top-level talent and creating better depth in the process. Now, Eastern’s new starting linebackers that the team got from the portal are Joe Sparacio (Will, weak-side) and Chase Kline (Mike, middle).
Sparacio is an incoming graduate transfer who will spend his final year of college at Eastern after he got his start at Boston College. Sparacio, from Naples, Fla. (First Baptist Academy HS) had six offers during his high school recruiting circuit and one of them came from EMU. At BC, Sparacio appeared in 19 games and made 9 starts.
LB, Joe Sparacio career (Boston College): 62 tackles (30 solo, 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks), 1 INT
Kline, from Chardon, Ohio (Chardon HS) transferred into to EMU after things went south between him and the new coaching staff at Michigan State. The former Mark Dantonio-era recruit played in 24 games at Michigan State, but no starts. Kline was an in-season portal entrant last year and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Both Sparacio and Kline joined EMU’s program in time for spring workouts.
LB, Chase Kline career (Michigan State): 52 tackles (20 solo, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks), 2 forced fumbles
Tariq Speights, a returning senior in his fifth college season (one at College of the Canyons, fourth at EMU), has slid into a backup role this season, listed as the team’s Will #2 on the preseason depth chart. In three years with EMU (two starting), Speights has recorded 155 total tackles (47 solo, 4 TFL, 1 sack), defended two passes, and forced two fumbles as well. Speights is from Valencia, Calif. (Valencia HS). Five of Justin Jefferson’s six offers to of high school came from MAC programs, and Jefferson chose to sign with EMU in 2020 (Chicago; Brother Rice HS). He didn’t appear in his first season on campus, but played in 11 games last year, and should see more game action as a linebacker this year.
Luke Cameron (Kokomo, Ind.; Kokomo HS) came to EMU after he spent the 2018 season with Army. He played in two games in 2019, and then every game since. Cameron has recorded 25 tackles (15 solo, 1 TFL) over 21 games for the Green and White. Brycen Huddleston, like Jefferson, was part of the 2020 signing class for EMU. Huddleston, from Fort Thomas, Ky. (Highlands HS) got in on a couple of games last year, but didn’t record any statistics. Steven Scheidt (Clovis, Calif.; Buchanan HS) played his freshman year at Fresno City College before he transferred in to EMU in 2020. He played in four games in 2020 and two games in 2021.
Zach Mowchan (Dillsburg, Pa.; Northern York HS) joined as a preferred walk-on last year. Mowchan, shortly, played in the Ball State game last year. Cole McElvany (Milan, Mich.; Milan HS) and Amar’e Reed (Canton, Mich.; Canton HS) both join the team this year as PWO adds as well. Reed is the son of the late assistant coach Fred Reed, who passed in May.
I think EMU definitely did itself a good job of finding upgrades at this position, and it helps that getting a senior to take a step back in the depth chart (or “rep chart”, as they’ll call it) without souring the mood is something that can’t be practiced on the field.
That simply takes having good personnel on the roster.
There’s a lot to love out of the new linebackers this year. Kline’s size (6’4, 233 lbs.) and physicality should make a huge difference in both the run support and turnover margin, and Sparacio’s smaller size (5’11, 226 lbs.) helps him squeeze through tighter situations. And between Kline’s size and Sparacio’s quickness, hopefully those two can figure something out to shut down the middle of the field against the pass.
Speights filling in for either on any given down is a safe situation to be in heading into the year, and Jefferson’s made enough strides in his game this year to feel good about his potential, especially late in the season.
EMU 2022 Positional Previews: Special Teams
The Eastern kicking and punting game was held down by two guys who’ve been leading this unit since 2017-2018. Jake Julien got going his freshman year in 2017 and is now, as of this writing, with the New England Patriots for his rookie year in the NFL. Chad Ryland, the team’s kicker since 2018, finished his EMU career as one of the best in to ever do it in program history, but more importantly, was responsible for the clutch field goals to beat Purdue in 2018 (20-19) and Illinois in 2019 (34-31). Now, Ryland is finishing his college career with Maryland.
In 2021, Julien had his best season for his punt average as he saw gradual inclines in this category every year, from 42.6 as a freshman to 45.9 last year. Though he didn’t play for the CFL team, the Ottawa RedBlacks drafted him #31 overall in the 2021 CFL Draft.
Ryland met or broke school records three games in a row in the month of November. First, he drilled a 55-yarder against Ohio which ties the school record, then he broke the school record (his own) for most field goals made in a single game with 5 vs. Western Michigan, then he finally crossed the career mark for most career points scored at Central Michigan.
Returning punts, Hassan Beydoun has really caught on to this part of the game last year. He fielded one punt in 2020, but 12 last year. Dylan Drummond was the team’s leading punt returner in 2019 with 12 fielded for 110 yards. Last year, he returned three for six yards.
These two were also EMU’s leading kick returners, and should expect more of the same here as well.
KR, Hassan Beydoun 2021: 15 kick ret., 284 yards, long: 35
PR, Hassan Beydoun 2021: 11 punt ret., 62 yards (5.62 avg.), long: 25
KR, Luke Cameron 2021: 1 kick ret., 15 yards
KR, Dylan Drummond 2021: 4 kick ret., 57 yards, long: 20
PR, Dylan Drummond 2021: 3 punt ret., 6 yards
PR, Jere Getzinger 2021: 1 punt ret., 12 yards
KR, Jawon Hamilton 2021: 5 kick ret., 80 yards, long: 21
PR, Jeff Hubbard 2021: 1 punt ret., -8 yards
P, Jake Julien 2021: 51 punts, 2,343 yards (45.94 avg.), long: 78, 5 touchbacks, 17 fair caught, 11 inside 20, 14 for 50+ yards
K, Chad Ryland 2021: 19/22 field goals (86.36%), inside 20: 0/0, 20-29 yards: 4/4, 30-39 yards: 8/10, 40-49 yards: 5/6, 50+ yards: 2/2, long: 55
KR, Carter Stagner 2021: 1 kick ret., 2 yards
KR, I’Shawn Stewart 2021: 1 kick ret., 21 yards
With two important positions wide open and a whole lot of new faces coming into the program, suffice to say these positions have no locked answers yet.
The top two punters on the team, right now, appears to be incoming freshman Mitchell Tomasek, and returning transfer Blake Ochsendorf.
Tomasek (Columbus, Ohio; Worthington Kilbourne HS) joined EMU last year and did not play. Ochsendorf (Savage, Minn.; Prior Lake HS) transferred to EMU in 2020 after two seasons with Minnesota State. He punted 127 times in his two years, averaging 35.2 yards per punt in 2018 and 39.8 YPP in 2019.
Adam Heston, from Sewell, N.J. (St. Augustine Prep) joined EMU in 2020, and Ryan Kingston (South Bend, Ind.; Riley HS) is an incoming freshman.
Of the kickers, Jesus Gomez is the only one that was with the team during the spring. Of note, Gomez (Puebla, Mexico) made a 53-yard field goal in the pouring rain during the team’s spring game. He’s been battling for the No. 1 kicker spot with incoming graduate transfer Brady Pohl (Kansas City, Mo.; Liberty North HS), who spent the last three seasons with Oklahoma State.
Ivan Maric (McLean, Va.; McLean HS) is an incoming freshman kicker on the team.
After a the team’s practice last Friday, EMU running backs coach and special teams coordinator Sam Sewell said that both punter and kicker positions are down to two guys each, and the winner for both races will come down to whoever can be the most consistent.
“Either guy, if they hit their absolute best ball, whether it’s kicker or punter, then you get some ‘wow’ factor out of either of them,” Sewell said. “But when it comes down to playing games and playing in the MAC and suddenly the weather turns on you, we want guys that are just going to be consistent.”
In figuring out what to do with his returners, he’s in a good spot with two, proven seniors that can old down their spots in both punt and kick return.
There are a few more guys that the team is trying out in practices — incoming guys like Chris Gundy, Jaylon Jackson, and Sebastian Toland; returning players in Corry Thomas and Tanner Knue — but it looks like these spots are solidly held by Drummond and Beydoun, with experience on their sides.
“Hassan is faster now than he was in the fall. We track him every single day, he consistently puts up more miles per hour now at any practice now than he did in any game,” said Sewell.
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