One of South Mississippi’s stronger position groups heading into 2017 has to be the linebacker corps.
The Coast is absolutely loaded with playmakers at the position. Many specialize in stuffing the run, but there are a select few who are a bit more versatile; guys who can nimbly drop into coverage just as easily as rush the quarterback. Here’s a smorgasbord of some of South Mississippi’s best:
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2016 defensive stats: 146 tackles, 23 TFLs, 5 QB hurries, 2 INTs, 3 passes defended, 2 blocked punts
The breakdown: An unquestioned leader on Gulfport’s defense, Karlos Dillard is perhaps the “biggest name” at his position heading into 2017. The 6-foot-1, 213-pound linebacker garnered plenty of attention as a sophomore when Dillard led his team in tackles with 84. He posted 11- and 15-tackle games against Ocean Springs and Harrison Central as a sophomore. Last year, he had nine double-digit performances. Dillard has been one of two popular picks among opposing coaches for Region 4-6A’s Defensive Player of the Year this season. Dillard reports offers from Nicholls State, Army, Princeton, Alcorn State, Cornell, Jackson State and Air Force.
School: St. Martin
2016 defensive stats: 100 tackles, 18 TFLs, 10 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FFs, 1 blocked punt
The breakdown: Mileon Graham’s sophomore highlight reel on Hudl.com is titled “underrated.” It’s hard to say folks won’t be watching out for Graham this year after the rising junior was among the Coast’s leaders in 2016 with 100 total tackles and 18 tackles for loss. His 10 sacks are tops among returning South Mississippi defenders. The Yellow Jackets graduated a ton of offensive production, so it looks like the 5-foot-11, 190-pound may see plenty of reps on the offensive side of the ball, too. Regardless of his snap percentages, expect Graham to be all over the field in 2017.
2016 defensive stats: 137 tackles, 20 TFLs, 4 sacks
The breakdown: The other popular pick among rival coaches for 4-6A Defensive Player of the Year was Trenton Ladner. Only a junior, Ladner has already been starting for two seasons. As a freshman, Ladner made 73 tackles. He nearly doubled his production as a sophomore with 137. Like Dillard, the 6-foot, 190-pound junior is instinctive and has a nose for the football. Expect new coach Neil Lollar to lean on Ladner’s experience as the Hawks look to make a climb in Region 4-6A.
2016 defensive stats: 104 tackles, 5 QB hurries, 1 INT, 2 FFs
The breakdown: D’Iberville’s coaches rave about Chad Searight’s football savvy and it’s easy to see why while watching film. The senior reads plays well and is always in position to either make a play or support his teammate. The 6-foot, 205-pound Searight’s strength is definitely shutting down the run. Searight reports an offer from Jackson State.
2016 defensive stats: 105 tackles, 13 TFLs, 7 sacks, 17 QB hurries, 1 INT, 4 FFs, 4 FRs
The breakdown: Brian Taylor forms one half of arguably the Coast’s best linebacker tandem with teammate David Baker. Taylor has been a disruptor for several seasons now. After racking up 109 tackles as a sophomore, Taylor tacked on 105 more. Taylor has proven himself to be more than merely a tenacious tackler. In two seasons, Taylor has amassed 25 TFLs, 11 sacks, 28 QB hurries and seven forced fumbles to go along with 214 tackles. Taylor also doubles as a bruising fullback.
But wait, there’s more
Here are a few more names to keep in mind: East Central’s Cade Miles and Avery White; St. Stanislaus’ Leo Roos and Lee Negrotto; Resurrection’s Cearly Parker and Becht Rowell; Picayune’s David Baker; Biloxi’s Anthony Crouse; Pascagoula’s Landyn Gordon; and Long Beach’s Tyson Callahan.