Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The 25th Anniversary All-Patriot Team, Part One: The Defense

For fun, I thought I'd pull together my hypothetical ballot for the 25 year all-Patriot Team, in preparation for the Patriot League's release of the team next week on July 25th.

Part One, which I'm releasing today, is going to be the defense (and, for good measure, I'm going to include the 25th anniversary all-star punter, too).

The intent of the ballot is to be a true "team."  That means that the ballot should consist of four defensive linemen, for linebackers, and four defensive backs. (more)


Going through the exercise, it's very clear what a challenge it is to pick to best of the very best in each area. In all cases I found myself sweating over the final position player, wanting to include three or four incredible players, but being forced to choose only one.

An additional challenge was trying to make a true team of the nominees. It's easy to simply take the four biggest sack artists, for example, and just say that they are the best of the best, but you'd have four defensive ends, most likely. When you add defensive tackles, you're subtracting some amazing players.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my choices.

Defensive Line
DE Andrew Hollingsworth (Towson). With 45 career sacks and an amazing 18 sacks in the 2000 season, the 6'2, 250 lb end was a force to be reckoned with.
DE Michael Ononibaku (Georgetown)While the teams he played for struggled, Ononibaku singlehandedly kept them in games. With 15 1/2 tackles for loss including 8 1/2 sacks in 2005 - while frequently double-teamed - Ononibaku was a Hoya football player that grabbed my attention.
DT Sean Conover (Bucknell) Hard to believe that this mammoth 6'5, 270 lb monster actually started his career as a triple-option TE. He made 34 consecutive starts and finished his career with 142 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacksm nine fumbles forced, three fumble recoveries and nine passes defensed.
DT Royce Morgan (Lehigh) While a broken leg his senior year slowed him down, when he was playing he was a force underneath with 18 tackles for loss including 11 sacks. One of the best defensive tackles, in my opinion, that the Patriot League has ever produced.

Just on the bubble: On the fence - and possibly, victimized by the emphasis on having it be a "team" rather than four defensive ends, are DE Mike Gregorek (Lehigh), DE Nick Martucci (Lehigh). At tackle, DT Ian Dell (Lafayette) was next in line in my mind.

Linebacker
LB Greg Manusky (Colgate) Arguably the best linebacker in Patriot League history - which is no mean feat, incidentally - he barely makes the Patriot League all-star team thanks to his appearance in the Colonial League in 1986 and 1987 in his junior and senior campaigns. With 162 tackles in 1986 and 134 in 1987, he was the heart and soul of the Red Raider defense - and it's unthinkable to think of what they would have been without him.
LB Andy Romans (Lafayette) A two-time Patriot League defensive Player of the Year award winner, the 5'10, 218 lb inside linebacker averaged over 100 tackles a year in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, and averaged more than 9 tackles a game for his entire career.  More importantly, he was a key element of the dominating Lafayette defenses in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that brought the Leopards back to prominence.
LB Tem Lukabu (Colgate) When people think back to Colgate's near-I-AA championship of 2003, they think offense - but it was Lukabu, arguably, that made them a championship-caliber team. A finalist for the Buck Buchanan award, in 2003 he notched 105 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss.
LB Blake Costanzo (Lafayette) The dominant Leopard outside linebacker completed his Lafayette career with 307 tackles, 18 sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He was a guy that haunted me plenty lining up against Lehigh.

Just on the bubble: Again, the competition for that final spot was intense, with LB Matt Cohen (Lehigh), LB Al Pierce (Lehigh)LB Marcus Taylor (Fordham) and LB Ian Eason (Lehigh) - all strong contenders, but just short of the incredibly strong starting four.

Defensive backs
CB Dave Murphy (Holy Cross) Any discussion on Patriot League cornerbacks has to start with Murphy, who was 40-4 as a member of the Crusaders and won a host of individual and team awards, among them a Lambert Cup for best team in the East and New England Defensive player of the Year. His 28 career interceptions still stands as a Patriot League best.
FS Pat Smith (Holy Cross) With 99 tackles in the 1994 season, Smith was Patriot League defensive player of the year and a ferocious hitter.
SS B. J. Gallis (Lafayette) A three year starter at strong safety, he finished his college career with 11 interceptions, 7 fumble recoveries, 309 tackles, 2 blocked kicks and 4 quarterback sacks. He played 33 games without missing a start.
DB Abdul Byron (Lehigh) Byron became the first Lehigh player to be named to the Sports Network's All-America team in successive years and the only player to earn the honor twice during his career. A true "shutdown corner" and a key element to the late 90s Lehigh championship teams.

Just on the bubble: Really, really hard to leave CB Matt Salvaterra (Lehigh) off the list, but Byron squeaks by Salvaterra, barely.

Punting
P Ben Talbott (Lehigh) The best Patriot League punter ever, when Ben was on, he was on - he holds the record for the longest punt in PL history (77 yards). He averaged 42.7 yards per punt and was a true weapon for Lehigh.

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