Things are no different amongst Grambling’s rebuilding linebacking unit — now missing its top two tacklers from 2008 — Keefe Hall and Jeffery Jack.
“It’s competitive, but that’s just going to make us better,” said Cliff Exama, a converted prep tight end who finished the 2008 season as the starting middle linebacker.
We saw the emergence of at least one rising star, and that was before the return of an injured potential starter, a key reserve from years past — and the arrival of a talented new Louisiana prep product who signed last February.
Exama, tied for team sixth for tackles in ’08 with 45, was joined on the first-team Black linebacking unit by Toby Mott, a rising redshirt junior. Bruna Foster, also a rising redshirt junior, is targeted to take over for Jack in the Sam position.
Backups included the returning Stephen Tripp, a senior; Edward Johnson, a freshman without bio information on the second-team Gold roster; and Edward Terry, a first-year player out of Towers in Stockbridge, Ga.
That breakout linebacking star was Nathaniel (Antonio) Leonard, a transfer wearing No. 38 on the Black team. He ended up as one of the surest tacklers in the just completed spring sessions for Grambling — and could be in line to take over for Bayou Classic defensive MVP Hall on the weakside.
A 6-2, 196-pound prospect coming out of Jonesboro-Hodge, Leonard earned all-district and was selected to play in Max Emfinger’s 2A Bowl, where he was rated as a five-star athlete. Only Christian Anthony made more stops two Saturdays ago in the Black and Gold Game.
Players say the group is poised for quick maturation because of steady leadership by linebackers coach Andre Robinson, whose depth of knowledge at the position was built during a standout career at Grambling — where he was an All-America honoree and the team’s defensive MVP in 1981.
“Coach Robinson has a lot (of credibility because of that),” Exama told me. “I was a stand up end, and he made me do a 360. In practice, we would stand behind me on inside runs, and read the play quicker than I could make my first step. He is a great coach.”
The unit will be joined in the fall by Baton Rouge defensive back Jordell McCoy, who made 106 tackles and six picks last season. McCoy, also recruited by Andre Robinson, said he runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Called “a player to watch” by The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, he was also named all district, all metro and was nominated for player of the year despite playing on a team that missed the playoffs with a 4-4 mark.
Also, middle linebacker Derrick Johnson is said to be progressing after a season-ending knee surgery and should be ready to go in the fall.
Finally, John Carter is also slated to return. He made 51 tackles — including three for a loss — as a starter on the weakside in 2007. He added 32 tackles as a reserve in 2005-06.