When Darren Thellen and Perry McIntyre graduated after last season, the Massachusetts football team lost more than just two of its top defensive players. It also lost a pair of leaders.
Sure, Thellen and McIntyre were the top two tacklers on the team while Thellen led UMass with three interceptions. But what was most valuable was their experience and leadership on a defensive unit that played mostly underclassmen in the Minutemen’s first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Now UMass must find new leaders for a 2013 group that is still a majority first- and second-year players.
UMass coach Charley Molnar said four seniors have emerged as those guys through the early stages of camp: defensive linemen Kevin Byrne and Galen Clemons, linebacker Stanley Andre and defensive back Devin Brown.
What Molnar likes most about this group is that it gives each defensive group a figurehead, or someone for the less experienced players to rely on.
“Every defensive group has a guy that’s leading, and I think that’s really important because — not just when they’re out there as a whole unit but during individual drills — a guy that will step up and get the guys working and setting higher expectations and demands for each group to work,” Molnar said.
Statistically speaking, Andre appears to be the leader of that group. The linebacker started in all 12 games last season with 41 tackles, four for a loss, and a sack.
Byrne also started in every UMass game last year, recording 27 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Brown and Clemons saw action in most of the Minutemen’s games in 2012 as well.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.