In 2010, the ACU Wildcats will return with the greatest strength of their 2009 team: their defense. They will look to improve upon their stellar last season with eight returning starters, including the entire front seven.
ACU will once again rely on their defense to carry the team, much as they did last season as the Wildcats managed to go 9-4, earning their lowest margin of victory and fewest points scored since 2006.
ACU welcomes back to the defensive line one of the its most valuable players – defensive end Aston Whiteside. He received multiple pre-season awards from various media and coaching outlets, including the pre-season defensive player of the year in the Lone Star Conference, pre-season first team all-LSC, and pre-season first team all-American by d2football.com. Whiteside had a team-leading nine and a half sacks in 2009 to go with 14.5 tackles for loss.
Senior linebacker Kevin Washington knows what a huge influence Whiteside has on the defensive side of the ball.
“Anytime the ball snaps, Aston is likely to get a sack or tackle for loss,” said Washington.
Fred Thompson will make the move back to defensive end opposite Whiteside after spending last season at outside linebacker. In this position, Thompson led the team in tackles for loss with 16 and recorded eight and one-half sacks.
The Joneses will once again man the nose guard position. Marvin Jones and Mike Jones, of no relation, combined for 48 tackles and five sacks last season.
The linebackers will look much as they did last year. Notre Dame transfer and leading tackler Kevin Washington will once again hold down the defense at the middle linebacker spot. Washington was granted an extra semester of eligibility by the NCAA at the end of last season. Senior Eric Edwards will join Washington inside the 3-4 defensive scheme run by the Wildcats. Edwards was fourth on the team in tackles last season with 55 and is third among returning players.
On the outside, Wildcat fans will see familiar faces. Both Courtney Lane and Bryson Lewis return for their senior season at ACU. Both players made game-saving plays in ACU’s first appearance at the Cotton Bowl last season. Lane recovered a fumble that put an end to a Texas A&M-Commerce drive at the end of the first half. Lewis then made one of the biggest blocks in Wildcat history to spring Drew Cuffee on his 81-yard interception return in overtime.
In the secondary, the Wildcats look differently. ACU will not return three of their four starters from last year’s secondary. L.B. Suggs will slip into the spot vacated by former team captain Tony Harp in a safety position. Suggs backed up the safety and both linebacker spots. He makes the move to full-time safety and will play alongside another former backup, Richard Havins. Havins started in the first four games of the season before being replaced in the lineup by Nebraska transfer Major Culbert. Havins recorded 21 tackles in 2009 with four passes defended.
“We have a lot of new faces with new guys, but the biggest key in replacing the leadership is getting everyone to do the right thing and do their job,” said senior cornerback Drew Cuffee.
At corner, Cuffee returns to man the left side. He made one of the most spectacular plays in Wildcat history after intercepting a pass by Texas A&M-Commerce on the first play of overtime and returning it 81 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Opposite Cuffee, the Wildcats will look to replace Josh Wise, who led the team with seven passes defended in 2009. ACU will call on senior transfer James Williams to hold down the right corner position. Williams played 11 games last season for the Wildcats recording nine tackles and intercepting one pass.
“Havins and Cuffee have really taken charge back in the secondary and become the leaders back there,” said Washington.
With one of the most experienced squads in the Lone Star Conference, the Wildcats look poised for another solid year on defense .