Meet the New Black Knights: DT

ArmySports.com continues to review this year's incoming freshman class by position. This group of defensive interior line recruits offers a number of players who could impact the depth chart as plebes. Last year's USMAPS defensive line actually outweighed the 2011 Army varsity defensive line.

The interior of the Black Knights defensive line should benefit from the infusion of some much needed size from both the United States Military Academy Prep School and the 2012 class of direct admit recruits.

Tala "TJ" Atimalala was the starting nose guard job last year at United States Military Academy Prep School. Atimalala was a first-team All-Conference and region on both sides of the ball at Desert Pines high school in Nevada as a senior. As a sophomore and junior Tala was named first team All-Conference and All-Region at defensive tackle. He earned second team All-Conference and Region as offensive center his sophomore and junior years. As a sophomore he was named All-Sunrise Conference Defensive Lineman MVP. He also made his mark at the National Underclassmen Camp when he was named the defensive line MVP. As a junior at Desert Pines high Atimalala had his best season making 54 tackles and posting five sacks. .

Atimalala continued to play well at nose guard in the double eagle flex for the United States Military Academy Prep School in 2011. He was dominant at the point of attack in helping USMAPS record shutouts against RPI JV, Kings College and FDU JV. Against FDU JV he posted three tackles as the Knights shutdown FDU JV offense limiting them to just two first downs. At Columbia he made three tackles and had a huge hit in the A gap against a Lions JV running back that sent him flying. In the battle for the Reasoner Trophy against Navy Prep, Atimalala helped limit the NAPS talented fullbacks in the second half as USMAPS overcame a 14 point second half deficit to beat Navy Prep for the first time since 2008.

Tala Atimalala received consideration by a number of FBS schools because of his on field production at Desert Pines high. Most college staffs didn't offer him because he lacks the measurables that they demand for a defensive tackle. Tala stands just 5-11, weighs 260 pounds and runs a 5.3 forty yard dash. Most college football coaches usually don't like shorter defensive linemen that are less than 6-2 because they feel their shorter arms allow them to be more easily neutralized by offensive linemen. Last year at USMAPS Altimalala proved none of his supposed limitations mattered. He was a disruptive player that often demanded double teams from the opposing center and guards. Tala has a very good first step and is quick off the snap of the ball. He is strong and uses his hands well to create leverage. He is powerful in his lower body. Atimalala holds up well at the point of attack and can be used as a traditional two gap Double Eagle defense nose tackle or line up as a three technique defensive tackle. Atimalala's father served in the U.S. Army Reserve. I believe Atimalala could impact the depth chart and see some playing time as a plebe. For some reason he was listed as an offensive lineman on the R-Day list but he's definitely a nose guard or defensive tackle.

Chris Smythe (6-0, 265) was the starting defensive tackle at the United States Military Academy Prep School last fall. Smythe graduated from Canyon Creek Christian Academy in Texas where he was the team captain for both his junior and senior seasons. Both years he earned first team All-State and All-District honors. Smythe was named the District II Defensive Player of the Year his junior and senior campaigns. He was a three year starter and his team won the state championship his sophomore and junior seasons.

At the USMAPS Chris Smythe played in every game and proved to be a solid run stuffing tackle. Smythe is a former competitive high school weight lifter and is very strong. He holds up well against the run and is tough to move off his line. He can take on a block and move laterally to stretch with a play. Smythe is Texas tough and a real competitor. He plays hard, will hustle and pursue. Smythe has first step quickness and can move to fill a run gap. Chris can generate some pressure rushing the quarterback with his bull rush style. He does have a nice sized frame and has the ability to add weight in the future.

Defensive tackle Jonas Niusulu is other defensive lineman who saw playing time last season for USMAPS. Niusulu is a 6-0, 225 pound lineman from California. At Barstow high school Jonas played both defensive tackle and defensive end. He also played every position on the Barstow offensive line. His senior year he made 57 tackles and posted two sacks.

Jonas Niusulu played well when healthy last year at the United States Military Academy Prep School. Jonas was hurt against Milford Academy and missed the next three games with an injury. He returned against FDU JV and made two tackles for loss in limited snaps. Jonas was back in the rotation against Columbia JV and had a good game. He played probably his best game in the season finale against Navy Prep. Niusulu missed time last fall but he has a nice upside to his game if he can remain healthy. He is a talented athlete who can move. Jonas is naturally strong and explosive through his hips. He is very quick and has an excellent first step off the ball. He does a nice job of coming off a block and finding the ball. He could play either three technique tackle or defensive end since he holds up well against the run and is quick enough to come off the edge. His father is a retired Marine officer. His brother, Zachery, played football at UCLA and his other brother, C.J., played at Arizona State.

Evan Finnane (6-1, 250) is the younger, "little" brother of Army defensive tackle Shane Finnane. Last season Finnane made 56 tackles and posted four sacks for St. Edward high school in Illinois. Evan can bench press 365 pounds and squat 465 pounds. He was a four-year starter on two St. Edward playoff teams. Evan Finnane chose Army over Air Force. He is a lot bigger than his brother with the frame to add more muscle the next few years. If he handles Beast Barracks well enough he could potentially impact the depth chart this fall as a plebe.

Jack Hanley is another Army direct admit defensive tackle recruit who chose the Black Knights over an offer from Air Force. Hanley is a 6-2, 265 defensive tackle from Concord, Ohio who made 70 tackles last year and recorded five sacks. He earned All-Conference and All-County honors. Hanley nickname "Jack Hammer" describes his game. He is a big, physical and powerful. He has strong hands, strength at the point of attack and solid 5.1 speed in the forty yard dash for his size. He is strong enough to play two-gap. Hanley lacks flexibility and pure athleticism but he was very productive in high school. His pass rush tends to be a bull rush where he overpowers opposing linemen forcing them back into their own quarterback. Hanley played on both sides of the ball at Concord but Army wants him at defensive tackle. Hanley was also offered by Akron.

Khodada Kia is a direct admit defensive tackle recruit from California. Kia was a two way lineman for Beckman high school in Irvine, California. He is 6-0, weighs 260 pounds and was an All-League Pacific Coast lineman Kia recorded 53 tackles, posted 7 sacks, made 3 fumble recoveries and forced a fumble. As a junior he made 69 tackles and had two sacks. Kia is very intense and aggressive. He has good straight line quickness and can close on the quarterback when rushing the passer. Khodada is relentless, runs down plays and hustles. His quickness off the ball would be an asset on either side of the ball but he looks like an ideal three technique defensive tackle in the Army Double Eagle flex scheme.

Jacob Owens was scheduled to be a member of the incoming 2011 class but broke his ankle leaping a wall on the obstacle course during last year's Beast Barrack and had to sit out last year. He visited the team during the spring game at Fort Benning and was ribbed by his former USMAPS teammates about being more careful this time during Beast. Owens played bandit tackle in 2010 at the prep school and was a high school quarterback in a spread offense at Madison County high school in Georgia. The 6-4, 230 pound Owens completed 63-of-138 passes his senior for 855 yards and six touchdowns. Owens also rushed 174 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. Owens attracted interest from a variety of teams looking at him as a quarterback, linebacker, H-Back and defensive lineman. Owens chose Army over offers from Air Force and VMI.

In 2010 at USMAPS Owens made three tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage in a game, against Nassau CC. Against FDU JV he posted another tackle for a loss. In the victory over Valley Forge he was able to generate consistent pressure rushing the passer. Owens is a big strong player with the frame to add weight and more muscle. He is a coach's son who understands the concepts he was taught and applied them. Jacob is a hard worker with 4.9 speed who is still learning how to play the three technique bandit position. Owens, with his inexperience and the year off, might be a few years away but is a good, strong athlete that could help down the road.

Next: A look at the incoming defensive ends

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