2 sophomore linebackers ready to step up for Tigers defense
Wallace, Tedder expected to be leaders for young unit
KDiondre Wallace and Chris Tedder are teammates, classmates, roommates — and competitors.
Each entered his freshman year vying for time at inside linebacker in the Towson football team’s 3-4 defensive alignment. That might have been awkward for two players who live together at home and on the road, but they eventually grew to appreciate each other’s presence on the depth chart.
“If we compete with each other, we make Navy Maryland Johns Hopkins, Morgan State each other better,” said Wallace (Arundel), a Baltimore resident. “That’s how it is.”
Added Tedder: “We’re definitely competitors, but I feed off him every time he makes a good play because that makes me want to make a play.”
In the end, Tedder and Wallace got the
opportunities they coveted. They started the final six games of last season for the Tigers, impressing teammates, coaches and observers.
Now, the sophomores are expected to anchor the interior of a defense that ranked fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2015 in points and yards allowed per game.
“I always worry about the sophomore slump for every freshman that ever plays, but with these kids’ work ethic in the offseason I don’t even think about it,” coach Rob Ambrose said. “Asophomore slump is [a player thinking] ‘I got it.’ Instead of saying, ‘I got it,’ they’re like, ‘I’ve got to get better.’ ”
In some ways, the 6-foot, 215-pound Tedder and the 6-0, 249-pound Wallace mirror each other. The lack of what some coaches would call prototypical size might have played a role in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs overlooking them. And the pair agreed that the transition from high school to college — especially academically and socially — required considerable adjustment.
Their differences are evident on the football field, according to inside linebackers coach Matt Hachmann.
“I think Diondre is a bigger, a little more powerful, a little more explosive football player,” said Hachmann, also the team’s defensive coordinator. “When Diondre hits you, you really feel it. He is a very physical player. Chris is a very instinctual football player. Chris does things naturally well. Chris does things naturally right without us having to coach him too much.”
Despite their relative inexperience, Tedder and Wallace practiced well enough to back up starters Malik Jackson and Eric Handy (Wilde Lake).
And after five games, they started at Stony Brook on Oct. 17.
“I wasn’t nervous because we were prepared,” Wallace said. “We were prepared because we practice. If I take reps off because I’m a two or a three, I’m not getting the guy in front of me better. So we all prepare the same. Anything can happen in a game. Anything can happen at any moment in time, and you’ve got to be ready.”
Wallace finished with 45 tackles to rank sixth on Towson and added a sack, a recovered fumble and a forced fumble.
Tedder had an even more impressive run, compiling 55 stops (to rank fourth), a sack and an interception. He was the first player
Towson at a glance
Coach: Rob Ambrose (eighth season, 43-41) 2015 record: 7-4 overall (5-3 in the CAA) Expected finish: sixth in CAA preseason poll 2016 SCHEDULE Date Opponent, Time Sept. 3 at South Florida, 7 p.m. Sept. 10 Saint Francis, 6 p.m. Sept. 17 at Villanova, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at Richmond, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 8 Stony Brook, 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at Dartmouth, 1:30 p.m. Oct. 22 New Hampshire, 3:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at Delaware, 3:30 p.m. Nov. 5 Elon, 2 p.m. Nov. 12 William & Mary, noon Nov. 19 at Rhode Island, noon in Tigers history to be named the CAA’s Co-Defensive Rookie of the Year.
But rather than rest on those laurels, Tedder and Wallace have worked extensively to improve, according to Hachmann.
“I think they’re a lot more comfortable in their roles,” he said. “Last year, they came in and didn’t know what to expect. Here, the expectations are high for them, and they’ve been able to handle that pretty well. They had to come in, be the starters, provide a little bit of leadership, anchor the defense to some degree, and that’s not always easy. When you come in as a freshman, you don’t really know what to expect and you’re just going. When the expectations are laid out for you, it’s hard to live up to them. But I think they’ve both been able to live up to them and they’ve been able to succeed.”
With six starters gone from last year’s defense, the spotlight is on Tedder and Wallace to help mold the unit before Saturday’s season opener at South Florida. But Wallace said he and Tedder have no fears about that task.
“There’s not a lot of pressure because we have a lot of leadership around us,” he said. “We know we’re not going to do it by ourselves. We know that when we step out here, there are nine other guys that are going to step out with us. So there’s no pressure. If everybody does their job and we stay together as a brotherhood, life’s easy.”
Rookie Keenan Reynolds is trying to make the Ravens as a wide receiver and return specialist after starring at quarterback for Navy.