Three seniors lead TSU defensive front
Troy State defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora shrugs off thoughts that he may be one of the top ends in the country come this football season.
The massive, yet quiet spoken, Auburn native was ranked as the 38th best defensive end in the nation by Phil Steele’s College Football 2002. Some notable players on that list include Kindal Moorehead of Alabama, Marcus Spears of LSU and Cory Redding of Texas.
"It’s an honor to be recognized," said Umenyiora. "But at the same time we want to go out, play hard and earn more recognition, not just for me, but for the entire defense."
Eight starters return to a squad that played well above itself at times last season. Nebraska and Miami’s superior size and depth eventually wore down the Trojans in two of their four losses, yet Troy State manhandled their fair share of teams also. Not the least of which was Mississippi State, an SEC school known for fielding huge offensive lines during head coach Jackie Sherrill’s tenure.
However, Umenyiora said he and his teammates aren’t satisfied with their 7-4 record from a year ago.
"There’s much higher expectations this season," he said.
Umenyiora will head up the Trojans’ defensive line, coming off of a stellar 59-tackle season. He was second on the team in tackles for loss (10) and led in sacks with six to his credit.
31-game starter Davern Williams returns also. Williams sat out spring training due to a off-season shoulder surgery. Jose Gamboa, the third senior along the front line, will anchor the defensive front at nose guard.
"Osi and Davern have played the most, and we expect great leadership out of them both," said defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt. "Gamboa is a guy who gives us great effort. If we get what we expect out of them, and some of these young guys behind them step up, we’ll be fine."
Shelton Felton will take over the other defensive end spot, opposite Umenyiora. Like Williams, Felton missed spring practice because of injury. He will be hard pushed by sophomore Demarcus Ware, who had a productive spring in Felton’s absence.
"Shelton is a proven guy for us," said Bolt. "He missed all spring, but we expect him to come back full speed."
The back-ups are just as talented, but lack experience. Sophomore tackle Eric Thomas saw a limited amount of playing time last year. Ware will provide valuable depth behind Felton. Redshirt freshmen Torre Lankford, David Tramble and Larry Brown, as well as sophomore Jamaal Holt will play behind Usmenyiora and Williams.
"Our first group is solid," said Trojans’ head coach Larry Blakeney. "Each of them has started or played a good bit. Our concern is with the second group. You need to be able to run two groups out there, and our second bunch is still learning. We just need those young ones to come on."
This is the fifth of a multi-part series breaking down the Trojans’ indiviual offensive and defensive units.