WASHINGTON - The Georgetown University football team is nearing completion of the second week of preseason camp, working hard toward its season opener at Campbell University on September 9. Throughout the month of August, we will take an in-depth look at each of the team's position groups, with this edition featuring linebackers.
The GU defense led the Patriot League in scoring defense last season (23.3 ppg), ranked second in turnovers gained (22) and third-down conversion defense (.382) as well as third in rushing defense (155.8 ypg). The Hoyas not only led the conference, but ranked second in the entire country in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on just 29-of-45 red zone attempts.
Georgetown's linebacker group was a focal point in last year's defense, accounting for more than one-third of the team's total tackles. While the Hoyas lose the leadership and experience of Leo Loughrey, who was fourth on the team with 69 tackles and 5.0 tackles-for-loss (TFL) in his final season on the Hilltop, they do return six members of last year's corps, including four linebackers who recorded at least 25 tackles.
"It is a strong group overall and there is a lot of good competition," said Defensive Coordinator Kevin Doherty, who works with the team's linebackers along with Alex Zanfardino. "They are a physical group and we are really working on their pad level, to be more explosive. We have six returners who have previous playing time and five guys who have come in that are doing well and are going to compete. There is some ability there, especially with that freshman class. I don't think I've ever had a linebacker group with as much depth as right now."
Junior J'V'on Butler (Melbourne, Fla./Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy), a Preseason All-Patriot League selection, is GU's leading returner at linebacker after leading the entire defense in 2016 with 87 total tackles, including 5.5 TFL and a sack. He also recorded an interception, forced two fumbles and recovered another, leading to him being named to the All-Patriot League Second Team.
Senior Matthew Apuzzi (Princeton, N.J./The Lawrenceville School) is the other returning starter at linebacker. He finished fifth on the team last season with 57 tackles while also adding 2.0 TFL and 0.5 sacks. Fellow senior Daniel Yankovich (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) returns after recording 48 tackles, 3.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks in 2016, his first full season at linebacker after converting from safety. He finished third on the team in sacks and is Georgetown's leading returner in that category. Junior Matthew Deal (Tallahassee, Fla./Maclay School) appeared in all 11 games last year, registering 27 tackles while also forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering one.
Junior AJ Schimmelpfennig (Atlanta, Ga./Lambert) and senior Cameron Seward (Atlanta, Ga./Westminster School) each saw action in 10 games in 2016, recording 18 and 13 tackles, respectively. Schimmelpfennig also blocked a punt against Fordham.
"It's a strong group of returners and the best thing is that all six players have playing experience," Doherty said. "There is no dead weight in there. Daniel Yankovich has played for a long time and Matthew Apuzzi probably started more games for us last year than any of the linebackers. J'V'on Butler has preseason accolades and was very productive for us last year. AJ Schimmelpfennig has played a lot in his first two years, and Mathew Deal and Cameron Seward each played a bunch last season."
The Hoyas have added five freshmen in 2017 which will give Doherty plenty of depth at the linebacker position. Wesley Bowers (Fort Washington, Md./Bishop McNamara), George Ikott (Sugar Land, Texas/Strake Jesuit), Trent Kavanaugh (Baton Rouge, La./Parkview Baptist), Xavier Reddick (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern) and Ahmad Wilson (Pittsburgh, Pa./Gateway) will all compete for playing time.
"One thing I love about the freshman group is that they all love football," Doherty said. "They are passionate about the game and are all working hard. I like the intensity that Wesley Bowers brings to the game and he loves to communicate. Ahmad Wilson, on the outside, has a lot of athletic ability and could actually play safety if needed. He brings some unique talents to the position. George Ikott is a good linebacker from Texas who plays with a good pad level, and Trent Kavanaugh and Xavier Reddick are both guys we are excited about as well."