TERRE HAUTE —
If just one player had to be chosen that embodies how far the Indiana State football program has progressed since 2008, you could hardly do worse than to pick senior inside linebacker Aaron Archie.
Archie arrived in Terre Haute in 2008. It was Trent Miles’ first season, the future of the program was in doubt, and Memorial Stadium’s worn-out turf had more threads and seams in it than a crazy women’s quilt.
Unfortunately, Archie was the last victim of that turf. During the fall Blue-White game, he got caught in one of those dreaded thread on an interception and tore his ACL. He sat out what would have been his freshman campaign due to injury.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday, right over there on that 20-yard line,” said Archie, standing near the spot where the injury occurred. “It was going into the end zone and tore my ACL. It hurt me. I was going back to my home city. I was shocked.”
The uncertain and unfortunate situation that Archie had committed to could have eaten him up inside or caused him to transfer, but Archie took a leap of faith.
Four years later, he’s part of one of the best linebacking corps in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“I believed in everything coach Miles said [in 2008]. He said a change would come and I focused on it. I took it in … and look where we are now,” Archie said.
Archie — a Missouri Valley Football Conference first teamer in 2011 and ISU’s leading tackler with 122 — is joined in the middle of ISU’s three-linebacker set by Jacolby Washington.
Washington — a MVFC second-teamer in 2011 — came a year later than Archie, but has been a starter since 2009, just as Archie has been since he recovered from his knee injury.
Miles knows he’s got talent to burn in the middle of the ISU defense. With talent and experience comes expectation … and Miles has perhaps higher expectations for the linebackers than he does for any other unit on the team.
“Those two dudes have played a lot of football. They bring a lot of experience and leadership. They should be the strength of our defense, they should be the strength of our football team,” Miles said.
Given their experience, running the defense for Archie and Washington is akin to being on autopilot in the best possible sense of the term. Both have excellent pursuit instincts and speed. They combine their raw talent with a knowledge of ISU’s scheme that’s second-to-none on the team.
“I can know the plays before the coaches even tell me. I’ve been in this defense since it started. I can call the defenses myself. I know what each position does. I have to be the quarterback of the defense. I have to do these things,” Archie said.
Archie and Washington had Ryan Roberts as their Sam linebacker mate for the last two years, but Roberts graduated. Taking his spot is senior Dillon Painter, who has played semi-regularly during his first three seasons. Archie called the linebacker threesome the Tripod.
“Dillon came in as a safety and he brings a lot of speed and physicalness to the table. Dillon helps us out big time. We put it together as a unit,” Washington said.
Experienced depth past ISU’s starters isn’t in large supply. ISU lists several players as “linebackers” who line up in a down position akin to a defensive lineman. Some — Zakee Bashir, Josh Scott and Connor Underwood being the most experienced — could play in upright position if needed.
But past that, there isn’t anyone else experienced. Kendall Walker is a redshirt freshman that could contribute. Miles said ISU will take a long look at true freshman Tarris Batiste, listed as a defensive back on ISU’s official roster.
“Tarris Batiste is someone we feel is as talented as anyone. He just needs to keep developing,” Miles said.
But the success of the linebackers and ISU’s promising defense comes back to its experienced corps of Archie and Washington. Both have come a long ways towards establishing ISU’s program, but Archie cautions younger teammates that none of what he and Washington have accomplished should be taken for granted.
“I tell the guys everyday that we came from the bottom of the totem pole. We were the laughingstock of the nation. I tell the guys everyday that we came from nothing and now everyone thinks we’re something, but we still have to keep that chip on our shoulder,” Archie said.
Projected starters — Aaron Archie, Jacolby Washington, Dillon Painter.
Reserves — Kendall Walker, Jess Harris, Ian Allen, Jamar Brown, Tarris Batiste (listed as a DB).
True freshmen (may or may not be redshirted) — Caleb Cox, Beau Shields, Ahmad Smith, George Stone.
Note — Some ISU players listed on roster as linebackers were included in defensive line preview as they line up in down position.
Player to watch — Dillon Painter, 6-2, Sr.: While Archie and Washington are established veterans, Painter takes over for graduated Ryan Roberts. Painter has plenty of experience, having had 39 tackles in 2010 and 10 in 2011. Painter flies to the ball, much as Roberts did, and is an aggressive playmaker.
Analysis — Even when ISU was at its lowest ebb as a program, it always managed to have solid linebackers and 2012 is no different. Archie and Washington have been mainstays for their entire Sycamore careers and they form a fearsome tandem in the middle. Painter is also experienced. As with other ISU defensive units, experienced depth is minimal, so to maintain serve and realize their potential, ISU’s linebackers need to stay healthy.
— Todd Golden