By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Big Man on Campus at Grambling State also owns the Big Smile on Campus.
"I have a cheesy smile, like a big, big gullible smile. Everybody is always talking about it," defensive tackle Christian Anthony says with a laugh.
Opposing players would hardly recognize The Sports Network First Team All- America strolling across campus. They are used to the more serious expression and playing style of Anthony, and neither is something to laugh about.
This fall, Anthony will return for his senior season to continue to wreak havoc on Southwestern Athletic Conference backfields. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end is widely regarded as the top defensive lineman in the FCS, having finished fourth last season in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the division's outstanding defensive player.
Defenses struggle to block the 2009 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year and often have to use double teams to contain his ability to come off the ball quickly. Last season, he had a conference-leading 55 solo tackles among his 76 overall stops. He had eight sacks and 15 tackles for losses, and collected an impressive eight turnovers, five interceptions (including two he returned for touchdowns) and three fumbles (he forced five as well).
"My motor has already been my best aspect," he said. "I want to maintain my motor, but I want to get faster, get faster off the ball, just getting better at what I do.
"This whole spring, I've been doing a lot of cardio work. I'm just trying to get off the ball as fast as I can. Cardio work, reaction time work, just stuff like that.
"(The goal is to keep) putting pressure on the quarterback from the beginning of the game to the end. Just the feeling of being physical and going out there and playing and representing my school the best way I can."
Anthony bypassed entering the 2010 NFL Draft so he could increase his strength and raise his stock for next year's draft. He is considered a mid-round selection for 2011. This season, he wants to get his playing weight down to 255 pounds and help Grambling State rebound from a disappointing 7-4 record last season.
Buchanan came out of Birmingham, Ala., to star at Grambling State. Anthony has done the same, and hopes to win the national award named for the FCS great.
"Just to have a chance to be up for it, a chance to be a finalist for that award, that was one was one of the greatest accomplishments that I feel like I've had since I've been in school and playing football," Anthony said.
The 2010 class of FCS defensive linemen isn't as strong as the 2009 group, which featured numerous players now spread across the NFL. Following are nine more players to comprise the Top 10 of 2010:
Markell Carter, Central Arkansas, Senior - Carter wears the No. 8, and eight is clearly enough for opponents. The tall, lanky defensive end (6-4, 250) does his best work in an opponent's backfield. He's a relentless pass rusher who came into his own as a junior, totaling 47 tackles, including 11.5 for losses (6.5 sacks). His athleticism, size and reach allow him to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage or drop back into pass coverage. He has tremendous upside, so he should get only better.
Christian Clark, Sacramento State, Senior - Last season, Clark - who can play anywhere on the line - had an impressive 15.5 tackles for losses, including 10 sacks, among his 44 tackles. At 6-3, 265 pounds, he creates mismatches. His coaches laud him for having a high football IQ and making adjustments to become a better player. Clark made The Sports Network's All- America second team as a junior and is one of the main reasons the Hornets should improve their defense this season.
Kenrick Ellis, Hampton, Senior - You can't teach size, and the big defensive tackle surely has it at 6-5, 340 pounds. He joins Anthony as the leading linemen on the radars of NFL scouts. Ellis, though, has to raise his consistency. He is entering his third season at Hampton after transferring in from the University of South Carolina. Last season, he made the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team, corralling 51 tackles. He made 15 tackles for losses, but only 1.5 were sacks.
Desmund Lighten, McNeese State, Junior - A Southland Conference first-team selection last season, Lighten would play all day long if the Cowboys coaching staff let him. The 6-foot, 250-pound defensive tackle has 4.59-second speed in the 40-yard dash, which is uncommon for an interior lineman. Last season, he used his athleticism to collect 64 tackles, including six for losses, while also scooping up three fumbles.
Dan Ogden, Montana State, Senior - Bobcats defensive line coach Bo Beck says Ogden can read blocks as fast as any player he has been around. The 6-foot, 261-pound All-Big Sky first-team selection does this with a quick first step, instincts and intelligence. By combining those skills, the defensive tackle makes opposing linemen miss with their block attempts. Last season, he totaled 44 tackles, including 5.5 sacks, while pursuing ball carriers all over the field.
Martin Parker, Richmond, Senior - Parker had four sacks during the Spiders' spring scrimmage, so imagine what the 6-3, 283-pound tackle might do against opposing teams this season. As a junior, he made an impressive 75 tackles, including team-highs with 15.5 for losses and 6.5 sacks. He's a versatile player on the line and benefits from quickness and athleticism. He was selected to The Sports Network's All-America second team last season.
Malcolm Taylor, Alcorn State, Senior - The 6-3, 245-pound tackle is a run- stopper who also uses his long wingspan to deflect passes. He combines high football IQ and upper body strength to shed blockers. A Southwestern Athletic Conference first-team selection, Taylor had 66 tackles and nine sacks in nine games, tying for the conference lead with one sack per game. By improving his footwork last season, he jumped to a higher level of play.
Renard Williams, Eastern Washington, Junior - Williams will keep getting better after a sophomore season in which nearly half of his 35 tackles were for losses. He had 16 of them, including nine for sacks. The 6-2, 300-pound tackle is strong, hard to block and takes up a lot of space in the middle. He made the All-Big Sky Conference first team as a sophomore.