The Pitt State Defense
The Gorillas return eight players that started three or more games on the defensive side of the ball during the four-game Covid-19 shortened 2020 campaign, led by All-America senior linebacker Morgan Selemaea.
Selemaea (5-11, 204) made a team-leading 30 tackles (14 solo) with two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick in 2020. The Harrisonville, Mo., native has 30 career starts with 168 career tackles (99 solo), 24.0 tackles-for-loss, 13.0 quarterback sacks, six interceptions and 14 pass break-ups.
In addition to Selemaea, the Gorillas welcome back a veteran linebackers group.
- Redshirt freshmen Luke Jennings and Alex Gaskill enjoyed strong 2020 campaigns. Jennings (6-4, 215) made 16 tackles (12 solo) with 2.0 tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery, while Gaskill (6-3, 205) posted 15 stops with 2.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception.
- Redshirt freshmen Mahcel Johnson (6-4, 195) and Dubem Okonkwo (6-0, 215) made 12 tackles apiece in 2020, while sophomore Elijah Robinson (6-2, 197) posted 10 stops and 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Redshirt sophomore P.J. Sarwinski (6-1, 213) also was credited with eight tackles last year.
- Redshirt freshmen Jack Barkley (6-1, 225) and Jake Burke (6-2, 200) and second year freshmen K’Von Hamilton (6-1, 230) and Brandon Stegall (6-2, 215) also figure to vie for playing time for the Gorillas.
“From a depth standpoint, our linebackers are the deepest unit on the team,” Wright said. “Along with depth we have some very good football players that we are going to ask to cover a lot of ground this fall. Morgan Selemaea is very talented and our leader, but we also have five or six others that played significantly last fall and all proved they can play winning football.”
On the defensive line, the Gorillas return a pair of All-MIAA performers in defensive end Kaden Roy and defensive tackle Zeke Wall.
Roy (6-5, 232) made a team-leading 86 tackles at linebacker in 2019 before moving to defensive end a year ago. The Webb City, Mo., native made 15 stops in 2020 with 1.5 tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Wall (6-1, 269) posted 35 tackles (15 solo) with 4.5 tackles-for-loss in 2019 and he added 16 stops (five solo) and a forced fumble in 2020.
Junior defensive end Keiondre Hall (6-4, 213) has 10.5 career tackles-for-loss and 6.5 quarterback sacks to his credit. Sophomore defensive tackle Dalton Davis (6-4, 242) started three games for the Gorillas in 2020. Second year freshman nose guard Cole Sample (6-3, 280) also returns after gaining valuable playing time a year ago.
Junior defensive end Nathan Woods (6-4, 228), redshirt freshman nose guard Christian Roth (5-11, 230), redshirt freshman defensive tackle Malik Wooley (6-4, 270) and sophomore transfer defensive tackle Daryl French (6-3, 285) also are expected to vie for significant action for the Gorillas.
“Much like the offensive side of the ball, our success defensively will be a direct correlation with the growth and development of this unit,” Wright said. “We have some good depth in this group and the transition of Kaden Roy to defensive end has solidified this unit as one that can control the line of scrimmage. I’m really looking forward to seeing a few others step up and become a dominant force for us. We are expecting a lot out of this group.”
In the secondary, the Gorillas welcome back three veteran cornerbacks in senior William Bazzle IV and sophomores Gasevan McGrue and Rico Payton, while senior transfer Jordan Hendy also is expected to vie for significant action.
Bazzle (6-2, 195) mas made seven starts in 34 career games. He has made 64 tackles with three interceptions and nine pass breakups. McGrue (5-9, 164) started all four games in 2020, making 14 tackles and two pass breakups. Payton (6-1, 180) rejoins the Pitt State squad after opting out of the Covid-19 shortened 2020 campaign. He posted 14 tackles and four pass breakups for the Gorillas in 2019. Hendy (6-0, 180) transferred to Pitt State in January from the University of Toledo, where he played the past two seasons.
Redshirt freshmen Antione Nunn Jr. (5-9, 165) and Dominique Shelmon (6-0, 185) also will challenge for playing time at cornerback for the Gorillas.
At safety, the Gorillas welcome back senior Markel Roby, juniors Brandon Mlekus and Adam Smith and sophomore Jeffrey Fordjour.
Roby (6-0, 200) made nine tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in 2020, his first year with the squad. Mlekus (5-11, 194) started all four games at strong safety in 2020, after moving back to defense from the quarterback position where he started 10 games in 2019. Mlekus shared the team tackle lead with 30 stops and he also made a pass breakup.
Smith (5-10, 179) did not see action in 2020, but he made 18 stops with an interception and a pass breakup in 2019. Fordjour (6-1, 199) posted 11 tackles in 2020, including a pair of tackles-for-loss.
Sophomore Jared Flood (5-10, 182) and second year freshman Kade Hicks (6-0, 180) also figure to challenge for playing time.
“Brandon Mlekus’ move back to safety has been a key move to really solidify the defense,” Wright said. “We will need consistency and good fundamental play from our backend players in order to defend the potent offenses in the MIAA. We recruited a considerable amount of talented people to add to our defensive back rooms and I’m excited to watch the competition among this group in the preseason.”
Pitt State Special Teams
The Gorillas will look to redshirt freshman Gentry Cole (5-9, 170) and second year freshman Jaden Snyder and Dominik Stadlman to handle the squad’s punting and place kicking duties.
Stadlman (6-1, 175) punted eight times for a 40.0 yard average in 2020, while Snyder (5-7, 160) connected on a pair of field goals on the season.
“Our specialist group is comprised of all freshmen and last fall was really valuable game experience for each of them,” Wright said. “We expect them to build off of their rookie seasons and really improve in production this fall.”