Spring Practice

Football by Jim Sullivan

Senior Trio Leads Linebacking Corps

PHILADELPHIA - When younger, less experienced players are looking for leadership, they tend to seek out a veteran. However, the burden of experience can weigh heavily on many talented athletes.
 
When that same burden is shared amongst brothers, however, the load lightens significantly. Such is the case for Temple's defense, which returns three senior starters at linebacker: Avery Williams, Stephaun Marshall and Jarred Alwan.
 
With a combined 40-plus starts across multiple linebacker positions, the three have fostered an atmosphere of knowledge and experience around the defense just a few weeks into spring practice.
 
As the middle linebacker and symbolic center of the defense, Alwan expressed how the game flows more freely due to the trust he has in his fellow senior starters.
 
"[The connection] makes it a lot easier to play," Alwan said. "You know how to leverage the ball, and you know Avery is going to be there, you know Steph is going to be there. If you do your job, you know they're going to do their job. It just makes it a lot easier, and it slows the game down."
 
The emergence of the trio comes at the perfect time following the graduation of NFL-bound linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who earned a plethora of awards during his final season with the Owls.
 
However, even with the loss of one of Temple's finest, the coaching staff remains confident in the experience and depth of knowledge currently present at the position.
 
According to linebacker coach Mike Siravo, the senior trio's multitude of playing time combined with their years at Temple has given way for continuity, an invaluable asset in the coming weeks of spring practice.
 
"The advantage they have is that they've had a lot of reps," Siravo said. "A lot of game reps and practice in this defense, and there's been continuity with the scheme, the coaches and the players at that position. They need to be elite with their details."
 
The constant reps and playing time has not only transformed them on the field, but off the field as well. Both Marshall and Williams have been wearing single-digit jerseys, #6 and #2, respectively, for two seasons – an honor reserved for the toughest players on the Temple team. Each has already generated serious leadership consideration from their teammates, with Alwan well on his way.
 
Between the three, however, the style of leadership differs tremendously.
 
Marshall has played in 38 games for the Owls, more than any other teammate. He exudes the action-oriented methodology, preferring to "show" his leadership rather than "tell" it.
 
"I expect to go out and lead on the field, have the best year of my career," Marshall said. "I think everyday it's about going out there and grinding. You're giving it your all, and guys see you do that, and it carries over."
 
Williams, on the other hand, has a stronger vocal energy. According to many teammates, the strong-side linebacker has a reputation for his "crazy side," which certainly carries over on the field.
 
According to Williams, though, his hard-hitting nature and bursts of aggression are intended to serve as examples to younger players who, he hopes, will feed off the energy and follow suit.
 
"[That reputation] is earned," Williams said. "If you don't do something, how do you expect anyone else to follow you. So if I go out there as a starting defensive player and run down on kickoffs and knock somebody off, and a guy who's not even playing right now sees that, he's going to be doing the same thing when he gets his turn."
 
During spring camp, Siravo and the coaching staff expect to see a stronger presence from Alwan, especially due to his position.
 
As the "MIKE" linebacker, serving as the symbolic center of the defense requires a certain level of vocal and action-oriented leadership, both of which coaches hope to see more of from the senior.
 
"[Alwan] is the MIKE, and he needs to step up," Siravo said. "I think guys listen to him, guys follow him, but I think you need to be very demonstrative as a MIKE."
 
Moving forward, Alwan aims to act as a more central figure in the defensive leadership, and he views spring practice as the ideal opportunity to create that reputation.
 
As for the unit as a whole, though, expectations continue to rise. The burden of experience may weigh heavily on a single player on a majority of opposing teams, but for the Owls' defense, it's shared between three brothers-in-arms.
 
And after three seasons together already and a fourth in the making, Alwan remains convinced the trio borders on psychic.
 
"Me, Avery and Steph have been playing together for four years now, so we're all on the same page," Alwan said. "I can just look at them, and I know what they're thinking and they know what I'm thinking."
 
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