Friendship and Familiarity
Dan Gilroy and Tyler Rich are in their fifth years on campus and are continuing to cause havoc in opposition backfields from their positions on either end of the Cardinals’ defensive line. They continue to be a focus of opposing game plans, but the defensive line as a whole has proved a difficult problem to solve for all six of the Cardinals opponents thus far. The unit of Gilroy, Rich, Brandon Greifelt and Dan Lester are in their fourth year playing together, which has formed not just chemistry but a close collective friendship.
“It’s nice to play next to people you’ve known your entire college career,” said Gilroy. “From the moment we first stepped on campus we were hanging out with each other so it really makes it easy to play well as part of that group.”
“It’s great to have brothers everywhere,” added Rich. “I have two of them in my house with Dan Lester and Brandon Greifelt so it’s nice seeing them every day getting prepared for practices and gamedays.”
Before last year’s Stagg Bowl, Gilroy hadn’t yet made a decision on whether or not he would take advantage of his final year of eligibility, but he and Rich agreed that choice became much clearer once the offseason began.
“Last year I tried not to think about it at all,” Gilroy said of having to decide whether to return for a fifth year. “I just wanted to play football and be there in the moment and not really worry about the future. Once the season ended I really wanted to come back, mainly to have to opportunity to go and win another national championship. Especially for those young guys who didn’t get to experience it in 2019.”
“I didn’t really think about it too much last year,” Rich agreed. “But then that loss in the championship really left a sour taste in my mouth and I really wanted to come back with the brothers that I love and the game that I love, so it was an easy choice.”
Different Players Making Plays
While Gilroy and Rich were far and away the statistical leaders of the defensive line last year, this season has seen a reduction in their stats due to the focus of opposition offenses in slowing them down. But one consequence of this has been a significant spike in tackles for defensive tackles Brandon Greifelt and Dan Lester, the latter of whom was named CCIW Defensive Player of the Week this week.
“You can’t really gameplan for one or two guys because across the board the talent level is just up there,” Gilroy said of the defensive line, raising his hand above his head. “I played next to Brandon [Greifelt] all of last year and he really wasn’t making many plays, so it’s really cool to see both him and Dan Lester get in on a lot of tackles.”
“They take on the double-teams every game and in practice, so it’s really nice to be able to see them succeed,” said Rich.
While the defensive line returned unchanged from last season, only two of the additional seven starters did (namely linebacker Sam Taviani and cornerback Nic Rummell). But the D-line wasn’t too worried about the players who would have to step up, and have tried to be leaders of a less-experienced defense.
“We knew the players on the field on Satudays would be ready,” Gilroy said of the changes in personnel on defense. “We knew the people behind us would be ready to go. I feel like the biggest thing for us was trying to set the standard in practices and meetings, showing people how they should prepare, so that was one of the biggest things I tried to take on going into the year.”
“It was mostly leading by example and trying to communicate the most about what’s being expected out of the young guys,” Rich said. “They’ve been doing a really good job.”
The Cardinals have shutout consecutive opponents for the first time since 2003. It would be fair to say they couldn’t be playing much better, but despite that they still see room for improvement.
“There’s still a lot of things that we need to fix,” said Gilroy, downplaying the defensive success. “But things are definitely trending in the right direction.”
“Yeah they’re going up and I think it started in spring ball,” continued Rich. “With B.J. [Adamchik] and [Angelo] Cusumano, one of the things we wanted to focus on was communication and they’re being really loud right now. And that’s helped us out a lot, them having a lot of confidence.”
This week the Cardinals face Washington University, who boast both the second best offense and defense in the country by points scored and allowed (behind North Central in both categories). For the players, the emphasis is on treating this game like any other: with the utmost importance.
“Honestly, we’re just trying to approach it the same we we approach any other game,” Girloy said. “We try to treat every game like it’s a national championship game. It’s a different gameplan and different people we’re playing against, but the process should stay the same.”
Said Rich: “Every week the coaches say ‘it’s us vs us,’ so we’ve just gotta do what we do throughout the week and Saturday will take care of itself.”