Hofstra Defense Never Rests In Quest For Wins

The Hofstra Defense, featuring an I-AA All-American at linebacker, 28 letterwinners and nine starters, may be the best in Head Coach Joe Gardi's 12-year career leading the Pride. The group that took 80 yards per game off of what was given up in 2001 (over 400 per game) to 2002 (322 per game) hopes to see similar improvement in 2003. There is no doubt, however, the Marshall Thunding Herd presents the defense with its toughest test of the upcoming year, especially being the opener.

Breaking down the defense for the Pride of Hofstra, position by position:

Defensive Linemen: The return of two starters, sophomore end Dan Garay (6-2, 244) and sophomore nose tackle Ed Greene (6-4, 290) gives the Hofstra coaches two experienced linemen for their new 3-4 scheme, trying to take advantage of the great talent at linebacker. Garay had 68 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2002 and is the son of former Hofstra and Los Angeles Rams standout, Tony Garay. Green had 33 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack as a freshman starter. At the other end, the front-runner is Stephen Bowen (6-5, 261), who had three tackles last year, and also in the mix are ends Rashaad Pitt (6-1, 250, sophomore), junior Josh Reed (6-3, 246) and tackle Mickey Keene (6-2, 278, junior).

Linebackers: The true strength of the Hofstra team has to be the line backing corps. Head Coach Joe Gardi felt good enough about the talent there to change his team from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 for 2003 and the Pride will have three of four starters return. First team All A-10 and second-team All-American honors winner is senior outside backer Renauld Williams (6-0, 211). One of only two first team All-Atlantic 10 players from Hofstra in 2002, Williams led the team with 114 tackles (24 more than anyone on the team), ninth best in A-10, and had 22.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks (both of which led the A-10 in per game average) which led to minus-254 yards for Pride opponents. Also returning on the outside is senior Tyree Johnson (6-2, 232), who was second on the team with 90 tackles and fourth with 7.5 sacks. On the inside, a huge hole was left when senior Bill Hambrecht was lost to a back injury that required surgery. He will be replaced by fellow senior Larry Kelly (6-1, 223), who had 21 tackles in 12 games in 2002, or inexperienced junior Sean Perrotta (6-1, 233). The other starter inside is sophomore Cole Haley (6-1, 217), who had 84 tackles (tied with Hambrecht for third-most in team) and five tackles-for-loss.

Defensive backs: Three starters return, maybe four if Vemba Bukula returns from running back. At safety, junior James Glee (5-11, 189), who posted 72 tackles, and senior Carlton Bargman (6-0, 182), who had 69 stops are the returning starters. Junior Le'var Starr (5'-0, 188) returns as a starter at one corner, having 26 tackles and two interceptions. The other corner coming out of spring practice was sophomore Prentice James (5-9, 173), who had five tackles in 2002, but junior Thomas Green (5'11", 192) may see time in nickel or dime packages and had two tackles last year.

Coaching: Joe Gardi is in his 14th season at the helm of the Pride. The former Maryland Terrapins offensive lineman has career mark at Hofstra is 105-42-2 (.711, second best in school history). After nine seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Jets and five more as an administrator in the National Football League, Gardi took over the Hofstra program as it jumped from Division III in 1990 to I-AA in 1994, finishing 12-1 in his first season and winning the Division III East Championship on the way to finishing as national semi-finalists. He has had 10 winning seasons in 12 years as the head coach.

By 1994, Gardi had his team ranked at #22 in the I-AA poll and followed that with a Top 10 ranking in 1995, the year he lost by only two points at Marshall, and made the I-AA playoffs for the first time. Since then, Gardi's teams have won the Lambert Cup as the East's top I-AA team, won the A-10 in their first year in the league (2001) and finished in the I-AA Top 10 three additional times. He trails Hofstra's all-time winningest coach, Howdy Myers with 141 wins, by only 36 games in just under 100 games less as head coach. Some of Gardi's big wins as head coach include going 10-0 in his first regular season before losing in the D-III semi-finals; going 8-2 against Buffalo, including knocking off the Bulls 20-13 when UB joined Division I-A and the MAC in 1999; a 7-0 mark against Liberty University; I-AA playoff wins over Lehigh in 1999 and Furman in 2000; and knocking off #19 UMass last season, 31-28, as part of a four-game win streak to end the season and finish at 6-6.

Hofstra is hoping in 2003 that the old adage about "offense sells tickets and defense wins championships" will hold true.

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