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UNH Position Previews: Linebackers bring experience into 2019

UNH Insider
Published: 5/2/2019 7:14:13 PM
Modified: 5/2/2019 7:14:02 PM

The University of New Hampshire football defense, the thinking goes, will be counted on to set a tone and lead the team as a young offense comes along early in the 2019 season.

The defense is where much of the team’s experience resides.

“We can be really good on defense, we feel,” said assistant coach Garrett Gillick, who works with the team’s linebackers. “It’s a matter of those guys going out and producing and hopefully as we start to figure out what we are as an identity on offense, having to replace our quarterback and such, the defense can kind of carry us through that and give us an opportunity to win games early while those guys develop and mature.”

The Wildcats are down to the final days of spring practice. They close things out with their annual Blue-White game Saturday, May 4 at noon in Wildcat Stadium.

The linebacking crew – led by seniors Quinlen Dean, all conference in the Colonial Athletic Association the last two seasons, and Michael Balsamo, a starter as a redshirt freshman at safety before moving inside – is another of the strengths of a defense that boasts an experienced secondary as well.

“I think both Mike and Quinlen are leaders back there,” said defensive coordinator John Lyons. “They’re different. Mike’s a little quieter than Quinlen, but he’s got a lot of respect from his teammates, too.”

Dean has started each of UNH’s 25 games the last two seasons.

Dean and Balsamo both had productive winters and put on weight and gained strength and have turned that into nice springs, Gillick said. Both are 6-footers and Dean is playing at about 240 pounds and Balsamo at 230.

“It’s great to put on a lot of weight or some added muscle, but can you still move?” Gillick said. “In our defense we need them to run around. I think they’ve done a nice job being able to keep their speed up and also add a few pounds and some strength.”

Dean led the Wildcats in tackles as a sophomore with 124 and was tied for the team lead with safety Pop Lacey last season with 79.

He earned second team honors in the CAA each of the last two seasons.

“I think he considers himself a first-team kid,” Gillick said. “As I told him, that’s the challenge. Now you’ve got to go out and do it.”

Balsamo started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman at safety and has been a regular in the rotation since moving to linebacker.

“The thing that happens once you move inside the box, things happen faster, especially in the run game,” Gillick said. “He’s played a whole lot of games for us. We knew he was going to develop and get bigger. ... He’s got the athleticism and he’s another kid that’s good in the weight room and smart. I think all three of those things have helped him.”

Another of the bright spots this spring has been the play of senior Cameron Brusko, 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds.

Brusko has played on special teams each season and has seen some time at linebacker.

“He’s always been a real smart kid,” Gillick said. “He’s close to a 4.0 (GPA) in the classroom and his ability to understand what we’re doing really helps. Now he’s just getting more opportunities and he’s taking advantage of them.”

Sophomore Kyle Hamper, 6-foot and 211 pounds, played in 10 games last season and has been coming on in the spring, as has junior Nelson Thomas, 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds, who has switched over from safety.

Redshirt freshmen J.J. Jerome, 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, and Zach Banks, 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, will push for playing time as well.

“It’s just a matter of those guys understanding the defense and then going out and doing it,” Gillick said. “It’s a work in progress right now. It’s an open competition for whoever can pick up the defense and what they can put on tape. We like to have as much depth as possible and it’s a matter of who does best in practice and who will be able to help us on special teams, too.”

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