OGDEN — It’s no secret Weber State football lost a glut of starting seniors that helped make up the best defensive unit in the Big Sky last year.
LeGrand Toia, Landon Stice, Filipe Sitake, Keilan Benjamin, Jawian Harrison, Jordan Preator and Parker Preator all used up their eligibility.
Look deeper into box scores and game notes and you’ll see players like linebacker Noah Vaea, safeties Preston Smith and Brody Burke, and cornerback Marque Collins all logged substantial minutes in the areas where WSU lost the most from departing seniors.
Add Boise State transfer Desmond Williams at safety into the mix as well, along with steady starter Auston Tesch at linebacker.
“Many might not be considered returning starters, but those guys have played a lot of football,” head coach Jay Hill said.
But there’s one thing apparent during fall camp practices when players are broken into position groups: the Wildcats return some nasty, gnarly dudes on the defensive line. A lot of them.
“We’ve got Adam Rodriguez and Jonah Williams who are both first team all-conference defensive ends,” Hill said. “Jayden Palauni and Jared Schiess have played lots of reps at defensive tackle for us.”
Rodriguez logged 61 tackles last year, a whopping 15 of which came for a loss. Even against consistent double teams, Williams posted seven tackles for loss. Schiess had 7.5 and Palauni 4.5.
And that only scratches the surface.
“Two of our best players right now are George Tarlas and Kawika Tupuola,” Hill said. “Those guys made tons of plays for us last year and they’re not even slated to start. Now, they’re going to play a ton because our D-line rotates a lot. But our backups are every bit as productive and good as what some people consider our starters are.”
Indeed, Tupuola posted 28 tackles and 6.5 for loss. Tarlas, who steadily grew into playing time last year, totaled 2.5 sacks. Two of those came at crucial times against a potent Idaho State offense in a win that wrapped up the Big Sky title.
Now-sophomore Kalisi Moli came off the D-line for a sack in that game, too, and McKade Mitton added even more depth throughout the season (13 tackles, 2.5 for loss.)
Each defensive lineman listed above played in all 13 games last season.
“We feel like what we have on our D-line is 10 starters. Those guys have played a lot of football and have been really good players for us,” Hill said.
Week 2 of fall camp picks up next week ahead of the Aug. 31 season opener at San Diego State.