MACOMB, Il. (WGEM) -- Hidden beneath a (3-8) record in 2012, Western Illinois had one of the better defenses in the Missouri Valley Conference, ranking in the top 10 against the pass, and top 25 in forced turnovers.
That may not sound elite on the surface, but you have to consider that the Leathernecks bring back four All-Conference players on that side of the ball.
Included in that mix is sophomore linebacker J.J. Raffelson, who became the first freshman in program history to lead the team in tackles, and the third highest in the country for a rookie defender.
Raffelson believes the key is continued growth in a system that won't see many changes under first year head coach Bob Nielson.
Raffelson isn't the only big weapon returning to the WIU defense.
Junior defensive back Martinez Davis finished among the top 10 nationally in interceptions last year, bringing two of those back for touchdowns.
He leads a secondary that returns all for starters, and that experience is breeding confidence at Leatherneck camp.