Bears linebacker has taken ownership of defense

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Jake Coon considered being a two-sport athlete at Wash U., but chose to focus his efforts on football.
Washington U. athletics photo

Jake Coon had dreams of playing Ivy League football.

But like so many football players in his position, the ones who end up in the Division III ranks, they have heard from bigger schools they lack the traits needed make it at the Division I level.

“The recruiting process was interesting for me,” Coon said. “I wanted to play in the Ivy League, but the schools I talked with told me I wasn’t tall enough or fast enough. I ended up visiting Washington and really liked it. I felt like it was a good fit for me and went in there being told I had a chance to make an impact right away.”

Two years into his career with the Bears, Coon is a difference-maker.

The sophomore linebacker is coming off his third game where he has recorded 12 or more tackles, an effort that helped Washington top Sewanee 34-6 and maintain a grip on a tie for first place in the SAA standings.

“I feel good about the way I’m playing,” said Coon, who leads the Bears in tackles (53). “Things were overwhelming as a freshman, but getting the chance to play really helped me this year. I think the offseason made a difference, too. I hit the weight room hard and had a good spring.”

Head coach Larry Kindbom, who enters the week on the cusp of his 200th win -- only 12 active coaches have won 200 games and just 78 have done it in the history of NCAA football -- said what impresses him the most about Coon is his leadership ability.

“His ability is tremendous, and he’s become a leader on our team,” Kindbom said. “I am pleased with the way he has taken ownership of the defense.”

Coon started off last year dealing with a little adversity. He broke his hand in the preseason and played the first six weeks of the year with a cast on it. He still managed to play in nine games and ring up 32 tackles.

“He made a splash last year,” Kindbom said. “I thought he played very well as a freshman and he’s doing even better this season. Jake has been a big part of our success.”

The Bears entered the year with a lot of youth on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, the top three tacklers on the team are sophomores. Linebacker Max Barnett has tallied 52 tackles and Ben Marcus has come through with 48.

It has taken time for the Bears to adapt defensively, with Kindbom pointing to the wild 41-34 overtime win over Carnegie Mellon in the season opener as a moment where his defense was thrown into the fire immediately and found a way to survive.

“We played a really good football team right off the bat. It was a good test for our defense,” Kindbom said. “It’s taken time for our defense to get into the flow of a game, but I’m excited about what those guys have accomplished. They seem to get better each week.”

Coon credits the scout team for preparing the defense every week. He also said going up against an offense that features one of the best quarterbacks in the country in J.J. Tomlin helps as well.

“That helps a ton,” Coon said. “They test us every day and it feels like when we get to game day, everything slows down for us. It doesn’t seem like as big of a challenge because we’ve seen our offense all week.”

Coon was a three-time letterwinner in football and baseball while in high school and considered playing baseball in college. He actually thought about doing both sports in Washington, but in the end, the smart decision to make was to choose one over the other.

“Some people told me I was a better baseball player than football player, but football is my passion,” Coon said. “I thought about playing both at Washington. I even talked with the baseball coach here. But I knew if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to dedicate as much time in the offseason to both sports. I miss baseball, but in order to make an impact in football, I had to dedicate myself to that sport.”

The decision has paid off for sure and Coon looks forward to continuing to help Washington make a run at the SAA title and berth in the NCAA playoffs.

“We keep our focus on one game at a time,” Coon said. “There are a lot of good teams in the conference and we can’t afford to look ahead to anyone. We feel good about how things are going but we know we can always get better.”

Singing the Blues

For the third consecutive year Chicago prevailed in the Blues Bowl. The Maroons converted on all four of its fourth-down attempts and forced five turnovers as it secured a 33-26 win over Rhodes.

Winds reached 20 miles per hour, but that didn’t keep Burke Moser from throwing for more than 300 yards for the fourth consecutive game. He threw for three touchdowns as well, pushing his season total to 13 while raising his season yardage total to 1,959.

It was a great day for freshman linebacker for Zachary Atiyeh as well. He recorded a career-best 11 tackles and recovered a fumble. He now has 20 tackles in all. Fellow freshman Bill Rotnicki wasn’t bad either, tallying nine tackles. He ranks third on the team in tackles with 43.

Chicago won for the second time in three games as it improved to 3-3 overall and to 3-2 in the SAA. It went over the 30-point mark for the third time this season.

Bulldogs come up with big road win

Nothing came easy for Texas Lutheran on Saturday in its SCAC game against Austin on the road, but an interception by Emory Cuzze with 30 seconds remaining helped the Bulldogs seal the deal on a 17-13 victory.

The clutch play by Cuzze helped TLU stay on track for its fourth consecutive league championship. The Bulldogs are 11-0 all-time in conference play.

Cuzze finished with nine tackles and helped Texas Lutheran hold an opponent to under 20 points for the first time this season. Cuzze is one of the Bulldogs’ top defensive players. He has come through with 43 tackles, the second-most on the team, and already has 27 more tackles than he did all of last season.

Crusaders still perfect

East Texas Baptist was hoping to make a statement. Mary Hardin-Baylor had different plans.

The third-ranked Crusaders scored 24 points in the third quarter to blow open a tight game and roll to a 59-22 win over the Tigers in a pivotal ASC showdown.

UMHB is now 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the conference. No. 19 East Texas Baptist suffered its first loss of the year, falling to 5-1 overall and to 1-1 in the ASC.

This was a game that was tied at 14-14 at halftime until Blake Jackson heated up and threw for a touchdown pass and ran for a score. Jackson set a single-game school record with 359 passing yards, and Tedric Smith and Tevin Jones tallied 11 tackles apiece as they continue to lead the tenacious Crusader defense. Jackson has thrown for more than 1,300 yards this year to go along with 19 touchdowns through the air. He has rushed for five scores. Smith and Jones rank fourth (35) and fifth (28) in tackles for a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in any game this year.

Sideline notes

Mamadou Soumahoro rose to the occasion for Berry, recording five tackles as he helped the Vikings knock off Hendrix 24-14. The junior defensive lineman also rang up two sacks and has 10 in all, breaking the single-season record. He is third in the nation in sacks.

Justin Broussard racked up nine tackles set a single-game SCAC record with 5.5 sacks in Southwestern’s 48-0 win over Trinity. Teammate Matt Gillen caught a league-record five touchdowns, including one on which he fell on a fumble in the end zone in the first quarter.

Jordan Washington picked off a pair of passes, including one that he returned 73 yards for a touchdown, as he helped propel McMurry to a 56-7 win over Belhaven. Washington finished with an ASC-record 155 interception return yards and helped the War Hawks limit the best passing offense in the league to a season-low 263 yards.

If you have a great story idea or notable accomplishments that deserve a mention in this column, feel free to reach out to me at brian.lester@d3sports.com. You can also follow on Twitter @BLester1993

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

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