Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
The Bison defense has forced its way to the top. With their tight strangle hold on the FCS, seniors Kyle Emanuel, Travis Beck, Carlton Littlejohn and Esley Thorton will continue to dominate opposing offenses with ease.
The numbers the Bison defense has put up this season are difficult to ignore. With seven returning starters on defense, the Bison are well on their way to lead the FCS in points allowed per game for a fourth straight season.
It starts in the middle, where seniors Carlton Littlejohn, Travis Beck and Esley Thorton have come together nicely, playing their first full season together as one strong linebacking unit. Collectively, these linebackers started in 80 games before the season, which has given Defensive Coordinator Matt Entz the confidence to leave them out on the field for any defensive formation.”We’re just being more comfortable with each other out there in nickel defense,” Outside Linebacker Thorton said. “The three of us have had more opportunities to run some of those nickel calls together and I think we’ve played more comfortable in coverage and the run fits.”
Thorton started his Bison career on offense, backing up Brock Jensen before the 2012 season. He identifies himself as a linebacker now and the transition from the offensive side of the ball is complete.
A more recent transition has taken place as Littlejohn has slid over from his former outside linebacker position to the middle, a position he got a taste of last season when Grant Olson went down with an injury. Littlejohn has flourished in his new role, already earning national recognition with his play against Weber State. Littlejohn was named a College Sporting News National All Star after his 12-tackle performance against the Wildcats, along with his second career touchdown.
Thorton, Beck, and Littlejohn have proved to be the core of the defense so far this season, but they would be the first to tell you they are getting a lot of help from their All-American-to-be defensive end, Kyle Emanuel.
Emanuel started his career at linebacker with Littlejohn and Beck, but was moved to defensive end while being redshirted in 2010. Since then, he has been a monster on the D-line, causing headaches for numerous opposing offensive tackles.As the only returning starter on the defensive line and an early season injury to his defensive end partner Mike Hardie, Emanuel has had a lot put on his plate this season, but he doesn’t see it as a tough challenge.
“If anything it pushed us harder,” Emanuel said. “They are redshirts or have never played a significant snap and we are going to be counting on them to start and play a significant role.”
Emanuel is out to another great start in his senior campaign, not missing a beat by collecting five sacks in the first three games of the season. “Our goal is still to be the best defense in the country,” Emanuel said. “The philosophy is the exact same. We are going to fly around with great effort and do our jobs, not relying on one person.”