Young Linebacker Unit Leads Broncos

Heading into the 2003 football season the main question for the Western Michigan University Broncos is perhaps the linebackers. With the graduation of starters Bryan Lape and Jason Malloy and no returning starters, the Broncos will rely on youth to anchor the middle of their defense.

Defensive Coordinator and linebacker coach Dick Bumpas used this years spring practice in evaluating his linebackers and getting them a lot of reps in to get used to the system. Coach Bumpas said, "the spring is a total evaluation, period." So, what does he have to work with?

Returning for the Broncos this season is redshirt junior Willie Miller. Miller sustained a season ending knee injury during a practice in the middle of last season and even though he was in uniform in spring practice, his knee was not a 100%. "Right now I'm just working on getting my strength up and it's coming back," Miller told Broncos Illustrated. "There's no more hesitation as far as getting me back with the injury right now it's just a weaker leg so we're just working on getting that stronger."

Redshirt sophomore Josh Behrens is also returning for the Broncos but was not used during spring practice due to an injury. Last season Behrens recorded 26 tackles (14 solo, 12 assisted) and one sack in 12 games for the Broncos.

The rest of the linebackers include junior college transfer Dan Steinau, sophomore walk-ons Anthony Belmonte and Steve Robbins, redshirt freshmen Jake West, Andre Harris and Paul Tithof. Steinau comes to Western Michigan University from Orange Coast Junior College where according to Steinau it was everyone for themselves. "Probably the main thing from my JUCO to being out here is back at JUCO it's kind of everyone is out there for themselves," Steinau said. "Just trying to get to that next level. Everyone want's to go D-One, everyone wants to keep pursuing their dreams. Out here it's just like one heartbeat. Everyone is out here just to win the MAC Championship."

Paul Tithof had a strong showing this spring and is looking to step in and make a huge contribution. Belmonte and Robbins walked on the team in January. Belmonte comes to the Broncos from Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Illinois, while Robbins didn't have to far to make it to WMU. Robbins joins the team after completing his high school in Vicksburg.

One move that was made during the spring was defensive end Aaron Kennedy and safety Anthony Turner was used to help fill in for the depleted linebackers. "Then we've moved some kids around. We've got Aaron Kennedy backing up one spot and also a walk on Tony Belmonte is working also with the other linebacker," Coach Bumpas told Broncos Illustrated.

With a new coach and such a young group of athletes, this group was able to come together early on. Miller had this to say, "Coach Bumpas adjusted really well for us. We were able to establish a good relationship early which I think has allowed us to develop so far along as we have."

When asked what they felt about how the linebackers would perform during the 2003 season Miller and Steinau was upbeat at how they were progressing. "I personally being a part of the linebacking crew and with our defense as a whole, I don't think we are going to have any weakness," said Miller. "I think there's no sign and nothing illustrating that we're going to be less than the number one defense for next year." Steinau told Broncos Illustrated, "I mean anyway we can, I know we're light on linebackers and I just want to stick my head in there and do what I can to help my teammates out and win. That's the main cause is winning. We all want to win out here and bring our program to that next level which we know we can. We've got the talent to, it's just a matter of we need people to step up."

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