Under The Radar: Leatherneck 'D' ready to build on solid 2012 - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

Under The Radar: Leatherneck 'D' ready to build on solid 2012

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Junior defensive back Martinez Davis recorded five interceptions, including two touchdowns in 2012 for the Western Illinois defense. Junior defensive back Martinez Davis recorded five interceptions, including two touchdowns in 2012 for the Western Illinois defense.

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.

"It was our first year in the system, so everyone was new from day one just learning the whole thing," he expressed.

"When it's all said and done we just need to come together as a team, and whoever is making plays, wether it's me, another linebacker, or a safety we should be able to capitalize."

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.

"The thing about our team, is that even though we're young we've got experience, so with that experience we can use that to our advantage," said Davis.

"Coming off of last year it was new to us, so this year we've got to be more sound, more solid. Last year we made a lot of mistakes but we still played solid. This year we can't make those same mistakes."

The biggest concern over the long haul could be health in 2013.

After a strong core of returning contributors in the starting line-up, many of the backups will be freshman or first year players, including five freshman on the defensive line.

Western's week one opponent Hampton should pose a good early test, averaging over 21 points and 300 yards per game in 2012.
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