A year after playing 22 players on a regular basis, Ashland University's defense will continue to have plenty of options going into the 2018 season.
The Eagle defense, which finished 2017 season in the top third in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in interceptions (second), sacks (second), total defense (third), scoring defense (third) and rushing defense (third), boasts 17 returning players among the top 26 tacklers last fall.
"We have a lot of depth at some positions, and we have a lot of needs at other positions," said Ashland defensive coordinator Tim Rose, "and I really believe that the transfers coming in, and the freshmen coming in, and the players who were here a year ago who didn't play much, will really be able to fill those spots."
Leading the defensive line will be senior end James Prater Jr., who has garnered some NCAA Division II preseason recognition after a junior year in which he racked up a program-record 23½ tackles for loss, resulting in 104 yards in losses; 42 solo tackles, 10 sacks, 63 total stops, an interception, eight pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
"He didn't come out of nowhere, but he was playing a new position last year," Rose said. "Certainly, his productivity was off the charts."
Another returning starter along the line is senior nose tackle Brandon May (24 total tackles, 2½ tackles for loss, 2½ sacks). May and junior Michael Hopewell (14 total tackles, 2½ tackles for loss, a half-sack, one fumble recovery) are the leaders inside.
Making the move from inside linebacker to "stud" end is junior Tristan Reichelderfer (46 total tackles, 1½ tackles for loss).
"He's in the mold of an Austin Utter," said Rose, who also mentioned sophomores Je'len Olbrantz (10 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack), Scott Valentine and Eric Pickering as also being in the mix.
At inside linebacker, a deep group is led by junior Clay Shreve (team-leading 84 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery), and sophomores Ryan Corkrean (35 total tackles, 1½ tackles for loss) and Tyler Tokos (26 total tackles, 3½ tackles for loss, one interception, one fumble recovery).
"If we stay healthy at that linebacker spot, we should be pretty salty in there," Rose said.
Rose said the "whip" position will be contested among junior Michael Church (15 total tackles, two tackles for loss), sophomore Carlos Chavis (eight total tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception), junior Ryan Coleman (three solo tackles) and redshirt freshman Brevin Harris, an Ohio University transfer.
"That spot wasn't declared through spring practice, so all of those guys have a chance to play for us," said Rose.
At safety, junior Nick Powers (65 total tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception) and senior Isaiah Stiverson (46 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, one forced fumble) are the frontrunners, with support from juniors Cedric Frierson (24 total tackles, 1½ tackles for loss, one fumble recovery) and Trevor Downing (nine total tackles, one tackle for loss), and redshirt freshman Michael Ayers.
Cornerbacks will be two positions to watch moving forward, with the leading contenders being freshman KeShun Jones, senior Southern Connecticut transfer Isiah Roberts, and sophomores Colton Paul (seven total tackles, one interception) and C.J. Towns.
"The speed and the skill and the experience, I think, give us a chance to have a pretty good corner tandem out there," Rose said.