The Gophers linebacker core took a hit after the conclusion of the 2013 season when it lost seniors and experienced playmakers Aaron Hill and James Manuel, but the unit has a mix of returning players and newcomers eager to fill the void.
From 2010 through the end of last season, the duo of Hill and Manuel combined for 336 total tackles (including 16.5 tackles-for-loss), six interceptions, six sacks, and seven forced fumbles in 97 games played.
This season, Minnesota returns five linebackers with collegiate playing time, totaling 48 games played. The group will be led by former Golden Gopher captain Mike Sherels, who enters his first season as the team’s linebacker coach.
Headlining the returnees will be senior Damien Wilson. The Gloster, Miss. native and junior college transfer made an impact in his first season in the Maroon and Gold last year, piling up 78 tackles, good for second on the team. Playing in all 13 games with starts in all but one contest, Wilson also had 5.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack.
Alongside Wilson will be redshirt junior De'Vondre Campbell, who also saw time in all 13 of Minnesota’s games in 2013. Playing a more prominent role this year, the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Campbell will look to improve on his 41 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, and one forced one fumble from his first season with the team.
Redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who debuted last year against UNLV and also saw time in victories at New Mexico State and Indiana, is another linebacker who will be looking to influence the Minnesota defense. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Lynn has bulked up since coming to the University as a 210-pound freshman in 2012.
Also returning to the team from 2013 with game experience under their belts are Nick Rallis and Dominic Schultz, who made appearances in 10 and 12 games, respectively. Rallis, an Edina native, made seven tackles after redshirting his freshman season in 2012, while Schultz worked his way onto the field for the first time last year as a redshirt sophomore, playing primarily on special teams.
Redshirt freshmen De'Niro Laster, Ray Dixon, and Chris Wipson and redshirt sophomore Cedric Dicke will challenge for playing time, as well.
Laster had 70 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles in 2012 as a senior at Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio and will add size at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Dixon racked up 97 tackles, 18 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, and one interception as a senior at Seminole Ridge High School in Florida before coming to Minneapolis last year.
Wipson was a first-team all-state player for Wayzata and fellow in-state product Dicke was a threat on both offense and defense throughout his prep career at Cannon Falls High School before coming to the program as a preferred walk-on.
Not to be forgotten is sophomore Cody Poock, who is working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered in the spring. Before transferring to Minnesota, Poock put together an impressive freshman season in junior college at Iowa Western, amassing 80 tackles, two interceptions (both returned for touchdowns), and a forced fumble. He also chipped in 8.5 tackles-for-loss and broke up two passes for a vaunted Reivers defense.
Sherels is also keeping an eye on true freshmen Everett Williams and Jonathan Celestin, who have impressed thus far in their short time on campus.
Williams of Mansfield, Texas was a versatile player as a senior in high school, scoring four touchdowns from the defensive side of the ball. At Mundy’s Mill High School in Georgia, Celestin moved from safety to linebacker during his final season and paced the team with 139 tackles (92 solo), earning all-state honorable mention accolades.
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Minnesota hosts Wisconsin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28. The game can be watched on Big Ten Network and can be heard on KFAN.