Five To Watch: Defense Print E-mail
Written by Dave Ruthenberg   
Wednesday, July 30 2008
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ImageWe continue our series of reports focusing on five players to watch in the MAC. Last week we focused on the offense, this week we take a look at five defensive standouts that could earn some national acclaim.



1) Daniel Holtzclaw, LB,
Eastern Michigan
Holtzclaw will be a four-year starter at linebacker for the Eagles who has made an impact in the Mid-American Conference since his freshman season. Holtzclaw, who was originally hoping to walk-on at Oklahoma before receiving a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan, landed on the FWAA Freshman All-American squad in his first year and has continued to pile up some pretty impressive numbers and carries a 35-game starting streak into 2008.
Last season Holtzclaw, already considered one of the better ball-hawking linebackers in the MAC, led the Eagles and placed third in the MAC with 125 tackles, giving him two straight seasons with better than 100 tackles. He has recorded seven interceptions over the past three seasons and finds himself on the preseason watch lists for the Nagurski (top defensive player) and Lombardi (top defensive down lineman) Awards. Holtzclaw has also been tabbed as the preseason defensive player of the year in the MAC by Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook.
National Spotlight: Eastern Michigan has an early-season appointment with Michigan State on September 6 presenting Holtzclaw with his best shot at turning some heads nationally. Later meetings at Maryland (September 20) and Army (October 11) could also be key opportunities.
2) Larry English, DE, Northern Illinois
Larry English may just be the most feared defensive player in the MAC. English has a knack for making the game-changing play, with opposing offenses frequently having to contend with English setting up camp in their backfield in the blink of an eye.
Entering 2008, English has made 34 straight starts and is coming off of a season that saw him top the MAC in sacks and finishing third last season in tackles for loss but his most memorable moment was no doubt against Idaho last season when English was a one-man wrecking crew, recording five sacks against the Vandals en route to being named the FWAA/Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week. How impressive was English in 2007? In winning the Vern Smith Award, he became the first defensive player in the MAC to win the award since 1982. This season English is already on the preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award and was named MAC Report Online's preseason choice for Defensive MVP honors.
National Spotlight: Circle opening night, August 30 at Minnesota but the real coming out party for English would be a standout performance at Tennessee on October 4.
3) Barry Church, DB, Toledo
Another player who has made his mark from the first moment he stepped on the field in his freshman season, Toledo safety Barry Church has been one of the most consistent defensive backfield performer in the MAC over the past two seasons, having started every single game in his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Church is a two-time first-team All-MAC selection and has recorded 163 tackles to go along with seven interceptions in just two seasons, including 92 stops and three picks last season. Church has also been stellar in safety blitz packages, recording six tackles for loss in 2007. Heading into this season Church has been named on the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award for the top collegiate defensive back and is a preseason Top 20 selection at defensive back by Phil Steele's College Football Magazine.
National Spotlight: Church seems to save his best moments for the Rockets in non-conference play and will have a chance to show off his skills in a couple of high-profile contests starting with opening night in Arizona on September 6 and a trip to Michigan on October 11.

4) Clayton Mullins, LB, Miami
RedHawks senior linebacker Clayton Mullins is coming off of a career season and anchors what may be one of the top linebacking crews in the nation. He is also the MAC's reigning defensive player of the year.
Mullins' MVP-caliber season in 2007 included leading the MAC, and placing among the nation's leaders, with 143 tackles and consistently displaying playmaking abilities that had MAC offenses scheming specifically to stop the linebacker but often to no avail. Twice last season Mullins recorded single-game efforts of 15 tackles and against Akron recorded five tackles for loss in a single game and finished atop the RedHawks with 13.5 tackles for loss in 2007. Mullins currently finds himself on the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award and is a preseason first-team consensus All-MAC selection.
National Spotlight: Mullins and the RedHawks open the 2008 season at home against Vanderbilt in a nationally televised contest on August 28 followed by a trip to Michigan on September 6.
5) Londen Fryar, DB, Western Michigan
A fifth-year senior, Western Michigan cornerback Londen Fryar has shown a propensity over the past two seasons for making life difficult on opposing receivers and is the MAC's leading returning performer when it comes to pass breakups.
Last season Fryar recorded 16 pass break ups to rank second all-time in a single-season at Western Michigan and his 17 "passes defended" are the most among all returning secondary performers in the MAC this season. His 2007 campaign followed up a 2006 season in which he recorded five interceptions in his first season transitioning to cornerback which paved the way to his earning back-to-back first-team All-MAC honors. Entering the 2008 campaign Fryar finds himself on the preseason watch list for both the Nagurski and Jim Thorpe Awards and was recognized by the Sporting News as a "top NFL prospect" and Lindy's as the MAC's "best cover corner."
National Spotlight: Fryar could help ruin the opening of the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska when the Broncos head to Lincoln on August 30 to open the season.

Next Up: Special Teams

Available Now - MAC Report's 2008 MAC Football Preview e-magazine, featuring the most in-depth analysis and feature-packed preseason MAC football publication ever published. Get your copy today by clicking here.

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