The defensive line unit is a group that has seen the most new faces since last year. The Flames have brought in 3 JUCO transfers and 3 true freshmen, and the entire coaching staff has raved about how these newcomers change the look of the team. New defensive line coach Josh Aldridge says, in a perfect world, he would like to have 10-11 linemen ready to play – 5 defensive tackles and 5 defensive ends while having a couple of those that can play both inside and outside.
DE 11 Jessie Lemonier R-SR 6’3″ 240
Jessie is the leader of the defense and the defensive line following a 2018 season where he was named VaSID all-state 2nd team. He had 55 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks on the year. He will be asked to anchor the line at one end spot.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “The first thing, when you talk about his leadership, is his leadership by example. I’ve been blessed to coach some players that practice really hard and play really hard, he’s one of the best one’s I’ve ever seen. He plays extremely hard, I love him for that. He’s got to understand, and what me and him talk about, you’ve got to make the others around you better. You’ve got to make sure they see you doing that. You’ve got to make sure you talk to them about that because, you look at him, you’ve got him on one side and Austin on the other, if we’ve got Austin playing like Jessie, we’re going to be hard to stop. He’s taken Austin under his wing and I’ve seen that in Austin.”
DE 44 Austin Lewis 6’6″ 230
Austin has added about 20-30 pounds during the offseason, but he says he is just as fast if not faster than he was last year. The sky is the limit for this kid, as he has the potential to play at the next level as he continues to grow into his body.
DT 94 Vincent Elefante R-SR 6’4″ 285
Elefante has emerged as a leader for the defensive line this year. He got some limited snaps in 2018 as a reserve, but he’s currently penciled in as a starter and he will play a lot this year. In the spring, he rotated back and forth at both defensive tackle spots, but during fall camp he’s been able to focus on his one spot.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “A guy who played some last year but is going to play a lot for us. He’s grown as a leader, he’s probably our best vocal leader.”
NG 99 Ralfs Rusins R-JR 6’5″ 315
Rusins is a very unheralded guy, originally coming into the program as a tight end. He redshirted in 2015, saw action on special teams in 2016, and received a medical hardship waiver in 2017 after missing most of the year due to an injury. In 2018, Rusins saw playing time in all 12 games, making two starts and finishing the year with 13 tackles. Despite the new competition coming in behind him, he’s still been able to hold on to the starting spot thus far.
DE 96 TreShaun Clark FR 6’3″ 230
On the second day of training camp, Coach Freeze called the additions of Clark and Monday “game-changers.” The praise for these two haven’t slowed down as they will both see the field this fall. Clark has already bolted up the depth chart to #2 at one defensive end spot behind Lemonier.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “He’s going to play. He’s going to be out there a lot, especially on 3rd downs. He’s a very mature freshman, physically and mentally. He just goes out there and goes to work.”
DE 98 Brayden Monday FR 6’5″ 245
Monday was highly touted when he committed to the Flames, and he is making an immediate presence in camp. He’s fighting for the backup spot behind Austin Lewis.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “Brayden’s going to play a lot as well. The thing with Brayden, he’s going to have to continue to get stronger. He’s going to be on some big dudes. He’s just kind of developing strength-wise, but in the summer alone he gained 15 pounds. He’s going to help us.”
DE 15 Jayod Sanders JR 6’2″ 210
Sanders has been a reserve defensive end for the past two seasons, with playing time in 19 games and one start. He may have a difficult time holding the two freshmen off for significant playing time.
DT 97 Elisha Mitchell R-SO 6’3″ 315
A year ago, it looked like Mitchell was going to be the Flames’ starting nose guard until he suffered an injury forcing him to miss the entire 2018 season. He’s still working his way back to 100% during camp. As a true freshman, he started the final 5 games of the season. Mitchell is currently working with the 2nd unit as he’s fighting to hold off those JUCO transfers.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “He is extremely light on his feet for his size. When you look at him, he’s kind of a round big body guy. He’s actually extremely light on his feet. They call him ‘Sweet Feet.’ He had 2 shoulder injuries, so getting more used to the physicality again and trusting those shoulders that he’s ok. In the spring, he only got to go through the last 3 practices so I really didn’t get to see what he can do. He played in the Spring Game and that was his first time in full pads. I haven’t really gotten to see what he can do, I’m evaluating him just like I’m evaluating these transfers.”
DT 55 Elijah James JR 6’5″ 295
James didn’t get on campus until the week of training camp, but he’s quickly emerging in the unit. He’s still working on his conditioning every day after practice. Originally from St. Louis, Elijah transferred in from Iowa Western Community College. He was late getting his degree as he was hoping to finish in December to be on campus early. Last season, he had 57 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and a pass breakup while playing near 330 pounds. He’s down to 270 right now, but the coaching staff wants him to work back towards 290. James is able to play anywhere on the line.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “The one that stands out (among the 3 DT JUCO transfers). He’s just so dynamic. He’s a guy that can help you on 3rd down. He’s kinda standing out to me from an athletic standpoint.”
NG 86 Devonte Lloyd JR 6’2″ 300
Lloyd is another big body, JUCO transfer that is pushing for a starting spot. He’s worked his way up to 2nd string behind Rusins.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “Devonte is probably one of the more natural football players. He comes from one of the better JUCO programs in Northwest Mississippi. He’s been the most pure football player. He’s the one I haven’t had to teach much fundamentally. He’s really strong with his hands.”
NG 93 William Green R-SO 6’6″ 315
Don’t glance past his size. Green attended Georgia Military College last year, finishing with 21 tackles and a fumble recovery. He was a 3-star recruit out of Westover High School in Albany, Georgia despite only playing one season of football. Combined with his one year of JUCO, Green has only played football for 2 years.
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “Just a bull in a China shop. Williams a big man. You’re talking about someone who is 6’6″ 310 pounds that’s like a ball of clay. His upside is bigger than anybody on our team if he can put it together. He’s just raw and learning how to play the game. He plays with great effort. Fundamentally, he’s never learned anything that much because he’s only played 2 years of football.”
NG 34 Devin Pearson R-SR 5’11” 315
Pearson joined the program last year from Mt. San Jacinto College and he got 9 starts at nose guard. He finished the season with 36 tackles, a QB hurry, and a fumble recover
DL Coach Josh Aldridge – “He’s in there, he’s doing a good job. He’s just got to keep a good attitude and keep working hard.”