Liberty’s defensive line will be anchored by Juwan Wells in 2017. The rising junior is coming off a standout sophomore season where he was named to the Big South’s first team all-conference and VaSID all-state first team. He led the team and was 3rd in the Big South in tackles with 79, while also having 11 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, and 9 pass breakups.
Defensive line coach Vantz Singletary says his standout lineman still has some room to grow. “Right now it’s a lot of being a coach on the field, studying film,
DE #54 Juwan Wells Junior 6’2″ 255 Dublin, GA
DL #75 Gregg Storey R-Junior 6’5″ 345 Cary, NC
DE #55 Tolen Avery R-Junior 6’4″ 270 Galveston, TX
DE #44 Dia’Vante Brown R-Senior 6’2″ 245 Greensboro, NC
DL #15 Jayod Sanders Freshman 6’3″ 210 Tallahassee, FL
DL #99 Ralfs Rusins R-Sophomore 6’5″ 295 Carnikava, Latvia
DL #90 Mitchell Hurtado Junior 6’3″ 290 Anaheim, CA
DL #97 Elisha Mitchell Freshman 6’3″ 300 Virginia Beach, VA
DL #11 Seth Nerness R-Junior 6’3″ 235 Huntersville, NC
DL #53 Simeon Phillips Freshman 6’0″ 300 West Palm Beach, FL
DL #98 Peyton Stallard Freshman 6’4″ 275 Norton, VA
DL #91 Elijah Cook Freshman 6’0″ 220 Roanoke, VA
DL #92 Mason Wolk Freshman 6’2″ 235 Lynchburg, VA
DE #96 Chris Escamilla Sophomore 6’2″ 225 Stafford, VA
DE #95 Devin Fisher R-Sophomore 6’1″ 235 Radford, VA
formations, different tendencies, just how they get blocked in the run game, pass protection. He wants to be the very best. The one thing that has helped him a lot, he and Chima (Uzowihe) has become really great friends over the years. He was a freshman when Chima was a senior. That relationship still goes on.”
As good as Wells is, he can’t do it alone. “He can’t do it by himself,” Singletary said. “You got to bring the other guys along, and make sure they’re carrying out their assignments, getting lined up, playing fast. Without those guys it’s like Michael Jordan, you can’t do it by himself. As great a player he is, he still needs help. So, I try to give him that analogy.”
Some of those other guys Coach Singletary is talking about are fellow starters on the defensive line Tolen Avery, Gregg Storey, and Dia’Vante Brown.
After spending his first couple of seasons going back and forth between tackle and end, Avery is solidifying himself on the interior of the line. Last year, he started 10 games at defensive tackle and had 19 tackles on the season.
“He brings even more value to us,” Singletary said of Avery who is up to 295 pounds. “He’s played the end position, he’s played the inside position, matter of a fact, he could play all along the front. I went back and looked at some of his film against Virginia Tech last year, the inside core of their offensive line is pretty stout, well, he went in there and hit them in the mouth. I just wanted to show him that’s an ACC opponent you’re doing that to. We’re excited about what he brings, and how he learns, what he’s doing. He’s going to be outstanding.”
After playing just 5 years of competitive football, Gregg Storey is ready to take on a starting role. Storey, who converted from offensive line to the defensive line last summer, played just 2 years of high school football. In 2016, he played in 9 games, the only experience he has playing defensive line.
“He’s made some strides,” Singletary said of Storey. “I just got him last summer. (He’s) just trying to learn all the different concepts, different blocking schemes. He’s really listening. He’s a smart kid. He really wants it real bad. His confidence is in a very good place right now. He’s solid as a rock and running like a gazelle, can’t go wrong with that.”
Starting opposite Wells at defensive end is Dia’Vante Brown, the only senior of the group. He’s played in 33 games in his Liberty career, including 6 consecutive starts at defensive end to finish the 2016 season. Brown finished the 2016 season with 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1 sack.
Singletary called Brown the unquestioned leader of his room. “He keeps the room loose. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s fun to be around. He’ll take the room and get them going on the film a lot of times when I’m not in there, you love to see that. He’s that guy when I’m not in there, when I’m in a meeting, or running some other things before I get them all together, he’ll take some of the guys and say, ‘hey guys, this is what I think Coach Singletary would want to look at.’ So, he’ll start looking at personnel grouping, he’ll start talking about personnel, technique. You need a team full of those guys. Regardless of whether he has the tag captain or not, Dia’Vante is really a great person when it comes to that role.”
After those 4 starters, there’s a lot of question marks on the defensive line. “(Our depth is) still a work in progress,” Coach Gill said of the D-Line. “We know who our starters are. We’re still trying to find out who will be the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th guys, who we’re going to redshirt, not redshirt. We pretty much got the top 7 or 8 of where we’re at, but who’s going to go into the 6th, the 7th, and the 8th, all that is still to be determined.”
True freshman Jayod Sanders will be in the rotation at defensive end. “He’s a guy that can rush the passer, quick as lightning,” Singletary said of the Tallahassee, Florida product. “He’s a little thin, but he’s strong. He’s not afraid to mix it up and be physical. When we put him out there in any kind of passing situation, man, he’s able to put his cleats on and he becomes Carl Lewis.”
Another true freshman, Elisha Mitchell, has also made an early impact on the coaching staff. “I’ll tell you what now, the kid Elisha Mitchell, he’s phenomenal,” said Singletary. “He’s very bright, kinda puts in my mind Jaron Greene. He’s still learning some things, but he’s a guy that’s certainly going to be in the mix, will be in our rotation.”