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2019 Preseason Preview: Linebackers

DAVIS, Calif. — Officially speaking, UC Davis assistants Jerry Brady and Isaiah Jackson are listed as the coaches for outside linebackers and inside linebackers, respectively. Unofficially, however, they are hardly alone in guiding those position groups, as key Aggie veterans have demonstrated abilities to mentor the other players into the upcoming season.

For Brady, that on-field leader comes in the form of senior co-captain Nas Anesi. Jackson benefits from a trio of leaders: senior Eric Flowers, junior Connor Airey and sophomore Montell Bland.

“It’s a quiet leadership, but Nas is a three-time captain for a reason,” said Brady, on Anesi. “The guys really respect him. He brings a business-like mentality to meetings.” On the field, Anesi’s playing abilities have resulted in 160 tackles during the past three seasons. Off the field, his leadership results in relatively unseen contributions, such as an evening during the first week of camp when Anesi stayed a half-hour after practice working one-on-one with a younger teammate.

Oddly, Anesi finds himself in learning mode as well, having shifted from an interior linebacker position to Brady’s crew. “This is his first time playing outside since we’ve been here,” Brady said. “It’s good for him to have a renewed sense of urgency. He’s such a good leader of guys. He does a good job with the overall morale.”

Among the ILBs under Jackson, Flowers has literally the most experience with the current coaching staff: he played under current UC Davis defensive coordinator Robert Tucker at L.A. Valley College as a freshman, then followed Tucker (and Brady) to the Aggies before the 2017 season.

Like Flowers, Airey has played all 24 games during the past two seasons, finishing sixth on the Aggies with 51 tackles in 2018. Bland is the youngest of the returning veterans, but he earned Freshman All-America honors from both HERO Sports and Phil Steele’s last year. Despite his young age, Bland has served as a “Coach Bland” for the program’s newcomers, and his 11-tackle performances against Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington (twice) shows that he knows of what he speaks.

“I can’t emphasize enough the role of Connor Airey and Eric Flowers and their impact on our group, not just the linebackers but on the defense,” said Jackson. “In terms of seeing formations and making adjustments, they’re just a step quicker. It’s awesome to have that kind of leadership in my room. They’re coaching the young guys.”

“Eric is like the glue for us. He’s not a team captain but a lot of guys look at him as if he is. He’ll have a big impact as a senior on the young guys, as they grow and develop this season.”

Both linebacker units have both familiar and new faces looking to make an impact in 2019. The departure of Mason Moe, Anthony Baumgart and Ryan Parenteau on the outside opens up possible roles for players like juniors Khanii Lesane and Terrell Sayles, each of whom have a strong familiarity with the UC Davis defense but have largely waited in the wings to display their talents.

In transitioning from defensive back to linebacker, Da’Von Frazier made huge gains in the weight room under the watch of strength coach Jeff Bourque. Nick Eaton was the defensive recipient of the team’s George Belenis Award, bestowed upon the top scout team players of the year. Add to the mix Joseph Kurung, who played safety for Santa Barbara City College and nickel for Butte College before joining the Aggies this year.

The interior linebackers welcome a crew newcomers: transfers Cole Hansen and James Scharetg, and true freshmen Jordan Monroe and Calvin Mouisset. Hansen amassed 38 tackles and garnered second-team All-Orange Empire Conference honors for Fullerton College last fall. Scharetg posted six TFLs in his sophomore year with the Rams before joining the Aggies during spring ball, but immediately became a “culture guy,” according to Jackson. “It has not been hard for him to acclimate,” said I-Jack. “He has been accepted by the guys as one of the Davis guys.”

Monroe was a two-time All-Hacienda League pick for Charter Oak High School, while Mouisset earned three straight All-Trinity League awards for JSerra Catholic down in San Juan Capistrano. According to Jackson, both freshmen will contribute relatively quickly in their careers, particularly benefitting from the tutelage of veterans like Flowers. “Jordan and Mouisset both have the ability to have an impact on our team pretty early,” said Jackson. “Both of them are smart and intelligent, and they come from really good schools.”

In the end, having a depth of talent combined with plentiful roles for the taking results in an exciting camp battle. The chances for new faces to step up adds excitement for the coaching staff. “There are lots of opportunities for those guys to get on the field and really showcase their attributes,” Brady said. “I told the guys in the first meeting, if you are the best at one attribute, we will find a way to use that attribute to the fullest. The guys are sharpening their gifts, and we’re going to find a way to put it on the field.”

Those opportunities will first surface during Saturday’s scrimmage, held at UC Davis Health Stadium at 9 a.m., and during the Aggies’ 2019 season opener at California on August 31.