Kube, Hanson lead deep linebacker position


Jerry Kill loves John Tranchitella.

The middle linebacker can chase down a ball carrier like a cheetah pursuing a gazelle. He’s got the vision of a hawk peering down for its afternoon lunch. His cat-like instincts allow him to always be aware of his surroundings. He can inspire his teammates like the Spartan king Leonidas, by example rather than flashy speeches.

“Nobody talks about [John] Tranchitella; he’s one of our better players,” Kill said. “‘Tranch’ is a guy who’s not going to say a whole lot. He’s going to lead by example.”

Despite all Kill has to say about the senior, Tranchitella will most likely not be a starter for the 2009 NIU football team.

That’s how deep the NIU linebacking corps figures to be next season, as the senior will be playing behind the likely starter in the middle, redshirt sophomore Pat Schiller.

Coach Kill isn’t losing any sleep over the state of his linebackers after losing the voice of his defense in Tim McCarthy, however. Kill’s confidence stems from the amount of experience that Schiller, along with fellow linebackers Alex Kube and Cory Hanson, gained while rotating in last year.

“They all [Kube, Schiller and Hanson] played a tremendous amount, so we felt like they were starters a year ago,” Kill said. “Those guys have been here, and they know what they need to do. It’s their turn, and it’s their time to step up.”

The likely starting trio know they are integral to the defense. They know that it’s on them to lead a defense that lost seven starters after they were the top defense in the MAC in 2008. While they are all looking to become leaders, they know they have to play within themselves to be successful.

Hanson knows there’s no replacing a leader like McCarthy. There might not be that outspoken leader just yet, but Schiller knows that he has to improve his play and eliminate mistakes before thinking about taking charge of the defense.

Schiller also knows how a successful defense has to operate.

“You’ve got to play 11-man football,” Schiller said. “I’ve got to eliminate the little mistakes and try to become a leader out there like Timmy [McCarthy] was and try to be the voice of the defense.”

The linebackers know a defense has to operate as one. It’s the same reason Kube made the switch from safety before the 2008 season: to do whatever it took to help the team.

It helps that this group has been playing together for a while. Hanson spoke for the rest of the group, talking about how they’re all working together to become better as a whole.

“The biggest thing is you’ve got to do your job,” Kube said. “You want to try and be Superman sometimes, [but] you’ve got to understand [your teammates have] a style just like you do.”

With the confidence and maturity that this group is exuding, it certainly seems like Kill’s confidence is rooted in reality.

“I feel very good about our linebacking corps,” Kill said. “That’s the least of our worries right now.”

When the least of the couch’s worries is with a group that lost two of his best defensive players from the previous year, the phrase “ready to compete” seems to apply perfectly.