As the 2008-2009 football season ramps up on its way to Denver this Sunday, the Collegian will be taking a 3-day look at the playmakers and coaches to watch for on both sides of the ball. In today’s second installment, we introduce the players who sacrifice the flash and accolades that come with the offense in favor of some good-old-fashioned hitting. Welcome to the defense.
Linebackers: Jeff Horinek and Ricky Brewer
CSU’s main force at linebacker is senior middle linebacker Jeff Horinek. The 6-foot-3 Atwood, Kan. native led the Rams in tackles last year with 94 — four and a half of those being in the backfield, which helped earn him honorable mention All-MWC honors. When the Rams take the field against CU-Boulder on Sunday, it will mark 29 consecutive starts for Horinek.
“I think this year’s defense is looking better,” said Horinek when asked how the 2008 defense compares to that of 2007. “We have a bunch of guys who want to run around and hit, and we have the freedom to do so.”
The other marquee name at linebacker is redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Ricky Brewer. Brewer came onto the scene in 2007 with a surprisingly strong season. He started the season third on the depth chart, but earned a starting job in week six against San Diego State, a role he kept for the remaining seven games of 2007. In only 10 games, Brewer recorded 64 tackles, which ranked him third on the team, and forced two fumbles. A graduate of Mullen High School in Denver, he is looking forward to taking the field for the first time in the Qwest Rocky Mountain Showdown.
“The University of Colorado is always a great team. This is a huge rivalry, I grew up in the state and I’ve been watching this game since I was a kid. I’m excited to play and I’m excited that it’s our first game,” said Brewer.
“The biggest difference in cohesion that I’ve noticed [compared to last season] is that the offense and the defense get along a lot better in practice, but as far as position groups, the linebackers have been working well with the D-line as well as the corners.
So, if we get all that going we’ll score a lot of points on defense, as well as offense, and really turn this team around.”
Corners: Nick Oppenneer and Brandon Owens
The Rams will definitely need to be a strong cohesive unit this season due to the inexperience at the cornerback position. According to the depth chart released by the CSU media relations staff on Monday, junior Nick Oppenneer and redshirt freshman Brandon Owens will start at the right and left cornerback positions, respectively.
Oppenneer is a native of Loveland whose collegiate football journey started not at CSU, but in North Dakota at University of Mary, which is a Division II school.
Following his freshman year at UM, he transferred to CSU as a walk-on for former head coach Sonny Lubick’s team. Due to NCAA transfer rules he was required to sit out the 2006 season. As a sophomore in 2007 he recorded two tackles in his six games played on special teams. This season will be Oppenneer’s first on scholarship and is one of the bright spots that cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie will be looking forward to this season.
“Nick is looking good, he’s doing some good things,” said Duffie. “We put him on scholarship this spring . but at the same time he’s just like everyone else, we’re trying to get him ready. For us to play well, our corners are going to have to play well.”
Safeties: Klint Kubiak and Mike Pagnotta
While the Rams lack experience at the cornerback position, they have veteran leadership at the free safety and strong safety positions. Starting in those spots are redshirt junior free safety Klint Kubiak and senior strong safety Mike Pagnotta.
Kubiak, older brother of CSU’s backup quarterback Klay Kubiak and son of Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, started all 12 games as a true sophomore in 2006. After starting the first two games of 2007 and recording 12 tackles, he was forced to miss the remainder of the season due to complications from low blood pressure and an ulcer. He was granted a medical waiver by the NCAA and still has two more years of eligibility.
Pagnotta didn’t quite go through the physical hardships last season that Kubiak did early on, but he suffered an ankle injury against TCU which slowed him down for the remainder of it.
He had arguably the best game of his career in last season’s opener against CU-Boulder, recording eight tackles, a sack and an interception, which, for a time, helped preserve a 3-point fourth quarter lead.
Defensive Line: Tommie Hill
Anchoring the Rams’ defensive line this season will be senior defensive end and Englewood, Colo. native Tommie Hill. Hill had a breakout season in 2007, recording 47 tackles and 5.5 sacks to go along with two forced fumbles. The senior has high expectations for this season and is ready to get things started on Sunday.
“I want to win a conference championship, so anything less than that will be a disappointment,” said Hill when asked about his personal goals this season. “But as a team, I say if we go .500, we go to a bowl game, we contend for a conference championship, that will be success for us.”
Staff writer Matt L. Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.