A young Ashland University defense in recent years is now all grown up.
In 2019, seven starters return from an Eagle defensive unit which was ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division II in 2018 in passing defense (third, 138.9 ypg.), total defense (fourth, 239.4 ypg.), first downs allowed on defense (fifth, 140) and scoring defense (eighth, 16.1 ppg.).
"Coach (Tim) Rose always preaches 'BIA,' best in America," said senior linebacker Clay Shreve, "and that's kind of our motto. We want to be the best defense in America every year. We're definitely looking forward to this year, for sure."
The strength of a stout Ashland defense will be linebacker, where Shreve and junior Ryan Corkrean return as starters for the third and second years in a row, respectively. Shreve was the Eagles' leading tackler last fall, compiling 76 total tackles, six sacks, 6½ tackles for loss and a fumble recovery, while Corkrean came on as the team's third-leading tackler with 63 total stops, 1½ sacks, 6½ tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
"Another year playing together, those linebackers, it's a teamwork thing," said Shreve.
Along the defensive line, the two senior leaders are stud Tristan Reichelderfer and defensive tackle Michael Hopewell. Reichelderfer's strong second half of 2018 led him to finish the season with 58 total tackles, 4½ sacks, 6½ tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble, while Hopewell stuffed the middle of the line and finished the year with 13 total tackles, a half-sack and 1½ tackles for loss.
"Tristan, he is a fantastic athlete, probably one of the best on our team, honestly," Shreve said. "He's a great football player, does a great job."
Senior Indiana transfer Ja'Merez Bowen, who started six games and played in 12 for the Hoosiers a fall ago, comes in to be the Eagles' nose tackle, while junior Je'len Olbrantz and sophomore Curtis Roupe (18 total tackles, 1½ sacks, 1½ tackles for loss), moving over from defensive tackle, will be the defensive ends. Junior Scott Valentine (four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss) also will see time at stud.
In the secondary, three starters return – senior safety Nick Powers (44 total tackles, three interceptions, one sack, two tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble), junior cornerback Colton Paul (35 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble) and sophomore whip Michael Ayers (23 total tackles, two sacks, 3½ tackles for loss, one forced fumble).
Sophomore Justin Moore (six total tackles) is slated to move into a starting spot at safety, while junior Jacob Williams, a transfer from Tiffin who recorded 49 total tackles, two interceptions, two sacks, five tackles for loss and a fumble recovery last year for the Dragons, will be at the other cornerback spot.
"Colton, he came into his own last year," said Shreve. "Jacob, he's a great kid, real strong, real athletic. Nick, he's a great player, and looking forward to Justin stepping in. We'll be ready to go, for sure."