Breakthrough Player #3: Jolonn Dunbar

While two rising linebackers will seek recognition next year (Tyronne Pruitt and Robert Francois), Jolonn Dunbar will approach stardom. Which is why he sits at number three on the list of Breakthrough Players in 2006.

#3. Jolonn Dunbar, JR, LB

BC fans grew familiar with Dunbar after his promising sophomore year in 2005, but now he has a bigger role. Last year he was a young sub who was asked to bring speed and energy to the defense when the elder Eagles needed a rest. In 2006, he'll be the veteran leader (alongside Brian Toal) who must be an anchor behind a revamped and untested defensive line. If recent evidence is any indicator, Dunbar will have no problem.

As 2005 progressed, Dunbar kept getting better. After recording a then-season high seven tackles against Virginia Tech (an easy game to forget), Dunbar rode the momentum to the end of the season. His big moment came in his first start of the year: Replacing an injured Toal during the last regular season game against Maryland, the former all-state running back in high school scooped up a fumble on his own six-yard line and took it the length of the field for a touchdown. The 94-yard score was the longest fumble recovery in school history and reason to remember Dunbar's name.

But with a sixth-straight bowl win on the line, Dunbar was determined to prove he had yet to play his best game. Coming off the bench to face Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl, he flew around the field with tenacious pursuit to lead the Eagles with 10 tackles. When the 2005 season ended, Dunbar finished with 50 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and, as a good indicator of the kind of quickness he has, three passes broken up. That was in limited playing time. In 2006, he'll be a starter and Eagles fans will have plenty of opportunities to see what he can do.

Watch out for his speed. In high school, Dunbar was heavily recruited by BC…as a running back. He posted a 4.4 40 back then but converted to linebacker when he got to the next level because of his size (he's now 6'1", 224). Over the past couple years he's learned how to be truly defensive-minded - now his speed is used to chase and destroy the guys currently playing his old position.

His teammates know what that's like. L.V. Whitworth probably still has a headache from a couple of the hits Dunbar dealt him in the Spring Game. Matt Ryan can tell you about Dunbar's pursuit: the scramble-prone QB was greeted with extreme prejudice every time he tried to cut the corner.

Fortunately for BC fans (and for Whitworth and Ryan), 2006 will provide Dunbar with 12 opportunities to do the same to players on opposing teams.

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