The defensive line was arguably Coastal Carolina’s most improved position group last season, and there are obvious metrics to quantify that growth.
The numbers will show that the Chanticleers’ collective sack total – with a strong push from the defensive front – rose to a program-record 29. And that the Chants also went from giving up 218.1 rushing yards per game in 2013 to 178.5, all part of an overall step forward as they ranked 13th nationally at the FCS level in allowing only 19.6 points per contest.
But beyond the statistics, perhaps just as significant an indicator of that development up front may be the group’s reputation and role within the locker room now.
“It’s a complete turnaround,” senior defensive end Calvin Hollenhorst said. “When I first got here we were regarded as the weakest unit on the team, and we’d had enough of that, personally. So we all worked our [butts] off in the weight room, in the film room and on the field and we all worked to improve and we changed that status around.”
Now, he said, the defensive line – a group featuring four returning starters and significant depth – prides itself on playing a much different role in the Chants’ continued push for an FCS national championship.
“I think the main difference is the D-line in general has assumed more of a leadership role on the team, and we’ve really welcomed it,” Hollenhorst said. “I think we’ve stepped up pretty well during the spring and summer, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
While the rest of the Coastal Carolina defense has enough unknowns to make fans and observers wonder whether it will be able to match its level from a year ago, there’s no doubt the source of optimism starts up front.
It’s a complete turnaround. When I first got here we were regarded as the weakest unit on the team, and we’d had enough of that, personally. So we all worked our [butts] off in the weight room, in the film room and on the field and we all worked to improve and we changed that status around.
CCU senior defensive end Calvin Hollenhorst
Seniors Roderick Holder and Hollenhorst were both voted to the Big South’s preseason all-conference team at defensive end after solid production last fall while fellow seniors Leroy Cummings and Marcus Crowder return as impactful starters on the interior of the line.
Holder was a first-team All-Big South pick last year while tallying two fumble returns for touchdown, 12.5 tackles for loss and challenging the Chants’ single-season sack record with 6.5, falling just shy of Kelvin McIver’s 2004 mark of 7.0. Hollenhorst, meanwhile, ranked fourth on the team with 60 total tackles and has earned second-team all-league honors each of the last two seasons.
And Cummings, in his debut as a transfer from Savannah State, teamed with Crowder to form a formidable wall in the middle of the line.
“We feel very confident in a leadership role this year and we’re working hard to strive to become the best on the field,” Holder said, reiterating the group’s newfound stature. “We’re capable of doing bigger things this year. We’re smarter, we’re bigger, we’re stronger – everything. We definitely have a lot of manpower this season with first-string and the two-deep so we’re looking to break a lot of records and do a lot of great things for this school. We’re trying to win a championship.”
Holder is also only 7.5 sacks behind the Chants’ career sack record of 17, but he says he isn’t caught up in chasing personal marks. It’s all about the overall goal.
“I’m focused on winning as a team and going all the way to win the national championship,” he said.
Chants defensive line coach Cory Bailey, meanwhile, further emphasized that the strength of the unit is not just in its experience but also in its depth.
Junior Jabarai Bothwell is back as a key reserve at defensive tackle in his second season with the program after transferring from Western Michigan. Developing sophomore Dwayne Price is another option inside, and senior Aaron McFarland and sophomore Marcus Williamson, a transfer from Hampton who had to sit out last season, will push for playing time at defensive end.
“I really feel like I’ve got almost two-deep of guys that can play – at least two-deep, actually,” Bailey said. “And they need to step up this year and be the guys that are the leaders in the group, but it’s great. We’ve been bringing those guys along for a couple years now. They had a really good year last year and should only build on it this year. …
“What I’ve seen so far this camp is if we get teams into third-and-long, their ability to rush the passer, we won’t have to blitz and we won’t have to potentially compromise some coverage. They’re hard to block. The sky’s the limit really.”
Again, the Chants have some significant questions throughout the defense while replacing two starting linebackers, two starting safeties and their top cornerback. But if defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin is concerned at all in trying to build on the growth the team showed on that side of the ball last year, he isn’t letting on to any such doubts.
Having such continuity and proven personnel up front is surely one big reason.
“High expectations for the defensive line,” Carlin said this week. “It’s a very good group – they work well together. They’ve got great personalities. They have fun, but they know when to flip the switch. So the expectations are high for that group.”
The Coastal Carolina football team saw significant improvement on the defensive side last season and is hoping a veteran defensive line, anchored by four returning starters, will help keep the Chants on that encouraging trajectory.
Rushing Yards Allowed/Game
Passing Yards Allowed/Game
Total Yards Allowed/Game
We’ve got a little competition between the left and ride side [of the line]. I expect those numbers to go up even more this year.