• Eric Fisher

MTSU Needs Ex-Wildcat Poydras

The Clarksvillian

If there's one position group for Middle Tennessee State that could've benefited most from having a regular spring filled with practice this year, it might be the defensive line.

Veteran defensive line coach Tommy West's bunch has been one of the most experienced position groups for the Blue Raiders the last several seasons, but this year, there are some unknowns.

The Raiders are forced to find new leaders to replace multi-year starters Malik Manciel, Tyshun Render and Trae Philpots. Though there are some talented guys remaining on the roster to fill in, they don't have the same experience Manciel, Render and Philpots had last year. Having a regular spring to plug guys in different spots and find some rhythm and timing would've been nice for West, but that obviously couldn't happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have very few guys who have really played," West said. "Talent's not a problem, it's just how fast they can learn and how fast they can develop some technique."

The only starter returning along the line is redshirt senior Rakavian Poydras, a 2018 Honorable Mention All-Conference USA honoree who started all but one game at defensive tackle a year ago.

Former C-USA All-Freshman Team member Jordan Ferguson, a redshirt junior, leads a group of several returners who are looking to fill the remaining three starting positions. The Atlanta native was hoping to be heavily utilized in the rotation last year before he suffered a knee injury two days before the season opener and missed the entire campaign.

"I am ready to do what I love, and I am eager to do what I came (to Middle Tennessee) to do," Ferguson said in a recent feature on "I have a lot to show and prove a lot of people wrong. I'm so excited to get back on the field with my teammates and get to work.

"We have a lot of young, hungry guys on our defense. We are going to be an exciting unit. I can't wait to see how coach [Scott] Shafer brings it all together."

Joining Ferguson as returners looking to make a name for themselves at defensive end include redshirt sophomore Jordan Starling, who played in all 12 games in 2019, and redshirt freshmen Darius "JuJu" Williams,Richard Kinley,Quindarius Dunnigan and JR Bivens. Tackles hoping to join Poydras include fellow senior and Murfreesboro native Ty Nix, redshirt junior Ja'Kerrius Wyatt, redshirt sophomore Jordan Branch and redshirt freshmen Marley Cook and Zaylin Wood.

Due to the relative inexperience along the line, West is anticipating heavy competition for playing time once they're able to get back on the gridiron. He hopes a class of newcomers — freshmen Vincent Dinkins,Tyrece Edwards and Ralph Mency— can find their footing fast, though it will be a tall order.

"I think these guys can be really good players in time," West said. "However this works out and whenever we're able to get back at it, we're going to have to get a crash course.

"You can't just pour water over their head and make a defensive lineman. You have to practice, and it takes hundreds of reps to get your steps down and your reads down. That's what we're missing."

Here are the defensive linemen on the roster:


Rakavian Poydras, R-Sr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/281

Hometown: Clarksville, Tennessee (Clarksville High School)

• Played in all 12 games in 2019 with 11 starts

• Career-best 28 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup in 2019

• Honorable Mention All-C-USA in 2018

• Played in all 39 games of his career

Ty Nix, R-Sr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-0/268

Hometown: Murfreesboro (Oakland High School)

• Played in 10 games in 2019

• Missed all of 2018 and 2019 spring practice due to knee injury

• Dad, Tyrone, is the former MT defensive coordinator

Ja'Kerrius Wyatt, R-Jr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-3/262

Hometown: Prattville, Alabama

• Played in 11 games in 2019; had 3 tackles

• Earned Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2018

Marley Cook, R-Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/282

Hometown: Water Valley, Mississippi

• Played in 4 games, mostly on special teams, and took a redshirt in 2019

• Earned team's freshman academic award in 2019

• 2018 and 2019 state powerlifting champion at Water Valley High School

Zaylin Wood, R-Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/270

Hometown: Bowdon, Georgia

• Played in 4 games in 2019, all on special teams, and took a redshirt

• 3-star recruit by 247Sports in 2019 out of Heard County High School


Jordan Ferguson, R-Jr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-2/266

Hometown: Atlanta

• Missed all of 2019 due to knee injury

• C-USA All-Freshman Team in 2017

• Also played tight end in high school

Jorden Starling, R-So.

Ht./Wt.: 6-4/243

Hometown: Chattanooga (McCallie)

• Played in all 12 games in 2019; 21 tackles, 2 TFLs

• Nickname is Moose

• High school teammate ofQuindarius Dunnigan

Darius "JuJu" Williams, R-Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-3/245

Hometown: Hemingway, South Carolina

• Took a redshirt in 2019

• 4-star recruit, 5thbest recruit in SC by 247Sports out of Hemingway High School

Quindarius Dunnigan, R-Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-3/248

Hometown: Chattanooga (McCallie)

• Took a redshirt in 2019; named team's Newcomer Ironman of the Year

• Tennessee high school Division II-AA co-defensive POY in 2018

• High school teammate ofJorden Starling

Richard Kinley, R-Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-2/226

Hometown: Memphis (Lausanne)

• Played in 4 games and took a redshirt in 2019; had 3 tackles

• Father, Richard Sr., played at MT from 1987-90; brother plays at Naval Academy

JR Bivens, R-Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-0/243

Hometown: Roswell, Georgia

• Played in 3 games and took a redshirt in 2019

• Also played lacrosse at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School


Vincent Dinkins, Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/252

Hometown: Kennesaw, Georgia

• First team all-state in 2019 by the Atlanta Journal

• Father, Vincent, played football at South Carolina and with the Pittsburgh Steelers

Tyrece Edwards, Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-2/257

Hometown: Knoxville (West High School)

• 3-star recruit by 247Sports, No. 46 prospect in Tennessee

• All-state and Region 3-5A Defensive Player of the Year in 2019

Ralph Mency, Fr.

Ht./Wt.: 6-2/236

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida

• 3-star recruit by 247Sports

• Played tight end and defensive end at Robert E. Lee Senior High

Jayshon Wilcox, So.

Ht./Wt.: 6-1/275

Hometown: Lewisburg, Tennessee (Marshall County High School)

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