Cherocci Leads Solid Linebacker Corps

Justin Cherocci
Aug. 28, 2014

By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com - MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - One of the signs of a good program is interchangeable and replaceable parts.

While the Central Michigan football team returns the lion's share of the starters from last year's 6-6 squad, a gaping hole existed at linebacker entering practice this fall.

That void was created by the graduation of Shamari Benton, who amassed a combined 237 tackles over his final two seasons at CMU, and is now in training camp with the Detroit Lions.

Benton, understandably, will be missed. But with the program on solid footing - i.e. ever-improving depth -- in coach Dan Enos' fifth season at the helm, there are several capable horses in the barn.

One is senior Cody Lopez, who will start at middle linebacker on Thursday when the Chippewas open the season at Kelly/Shorts Stadium against Chattanooga.

"He's a great young man who's worked very hard," Enos said of Lopez. "He's gotten himself to 228 pounds and he's instinctive, tough, and just a hard worker, great student. We're really happy for him and he's got a chance to be a productive player in there."

It helps, of course, that Benton's former linebacking mate, Justin Cherocci, is back for his senior season.

Cherocci was the Mid-American Conference's top tackler in 2013 with 121 stops, earning Third Team All-MAC honors and CMU's Defensive Upfront Co-Player of the Year Award.

He is on the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List this season.

"We expect him to do everything for us," linebackers coach Kyle Nystrom said of Cherocci, who is one of eight Chippewa captains this season. "We expect him to play lights out and handle things that go on within the team along with the other leaders. It's time for him to do that."

It's also time for Lopez, a senior who has paid his dues while serving primarily as a backup to Cherocci and Benton over the past two seasons.

"Feels good, definitely, to know that the first play on defense you're going to be out there," said Lopez, who appeared in all 25 of CMU's games over the past two seasons, recording 53 tackles. "I can't wait. I'm just really looking forward to being a part of it. Our whole defense has been looking amazing all camp and I just can't wait to see us on Thursday."

Cherocci moves to the strong-side linebacker role while Lopez takes over at middle backer, the position Cherocci filled last season.

Junior Tim Hamilton also figures to see plenty of playing time in spelling both Lopez and Cherocci.

"Tim and Cody, they're both right there, they're both first-teamers at mike backer," Nystrom said. "Each one possesses a little bit different strength."

Also in the mix are junior Jadon Cook, sophomore Nathan Ricketts, and redshirt freshman Jeff Perry, who moved from safety to linebacker during spring ball.

"There's enough there to play with and we'll use all those guys in different packages and in different roles," Nystrom said. "Perry, he's still a redshirt freshman, still cutting his teeth, but he's going to be good."
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