Linfield defense draws preseason acclaim by D3
“It’s gratifying knowing they still consider me of the best guys in the country after taking a year off,” Steele said, “but it also makes me a little bitter that they put the PLU kid in front of me.”
By “PLU kid,” Steele means Pacific Lutheran defensive tackle Mychael Tuiasosopo, who D3Football.com named a First-Team All-American. Steele, who played in just three games last season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee, is on the Second Team.
Joining Steele on the Second Team Defense is senior Dom Forrest at linebacker. Forrest was the Northwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year last year for the Wildcats. Defensive end Brynnan Hyland was a first-team selection.
Preseason All-American lists mean little in the grand scheme of things other than to start the hype for the upcoming football season, and Linfield earning three spots is telling in how followers of Division III football see the Wildcats. Linfield was voted No. 4 in D3Football.com’s preseason rankings, and the All-American nods on defense lend an early respect.
Linfield returns all 11 of its starters from last year’s defense that was tops in the nation in sacks (67) and tackles for a loss. In the TFL category, the Wildcats had a total 129 tackles for a loss that set back opponents 543 yards. Wartburg was second in the category and had 25 fewer TFLs and a 136 fewer yards.
To top it all off, the Wildcats return Steele, who was an All-American in 2011 and a preseason All-American in 2012 as well. He tore his ACL vs. Hardin-Simmons in the second week of the season and after playing one final game vs. Cal Lutheran the following week, opted for surgery and to try for a medical redshirt. He heard in March that he would be able to return to play again.
So technically, Linfield returns 12 of 11 starters from its vaunted defense that held opponents to 87.7 rushing yards per game and had 62 sacks — more than double that of the second most in the conference.
“How many teams can say that?” Steele said. “We can only get better. We can’t go down from there.”
Leading the way is Hyland, who led the country in sacks last year with 17.5. After Steele went down with his injury last year, it would have been natural to see the Wildcats miss the physical pass rusher. Instead, the Wildcats went on a four-game run where they allowed just a bit more than a touchdown per game. Their rushing defense actually improved.
With the start of fall camp two weeks away, there will be a couple of questions that could slightly lower Linfield’s expectations for the start of the season. Forrest was injured in Linfield’s double-overtime loss to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals, and he has been rehabbing the entire offseason to try and make it back for the first game.
The other concern comes from an off-the-field incident involving star safety Colin Forman. Forman, then 20, was arraigned in May on five counts of hit-and-run/property, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count each of second-degree criminal mischief, driving under the influence of intoxicants and reckless driving. According to a previous article by The News-Register, Forman’s blood alcohol content was .25 when he allegedly went on a drunken driving spree in a residential area of McMinville. He crashed into two vehicles and a utility trailer, knocked down a 40-foot power pole, took out mailboxes and drove over some lawns.
For a full report of Forman’s plea and sentencing hearing from last week, read reporter Paul Daquilante’s story on A1, but in part, Forman pleaded guilty to two counts each of recklessly endangering another person and hit-and-run, and one count each of second-degree criminal mischief and driving under the influence of intoxicants. He will have to serve 96 hours in jail.
There was no word Thursday how this would affect Forman’s eligibility on the football team.