BLOOMINGTON – George Ricumstrict thinks he’s found what he’s been looking for at middle linebacker.
The third-year IU linebackers coach will have a new man in the middle this fall. After spending the 2006 season trying to figure his best fit on the football field and then the 2007 season as a back-up to Adam McClurg, Matt Mayberry is ready to step into the spotlight this season.
Ricumstrict believes the 6-2, 236-pounder from Darien, Ill., is up to the challenge.
“Matt is capable of dominating at the position,” said Ricumstrict. “He’s big, he’s fast and he’s strong. He’s everything you look for in a linebacker.”
There was originally some doubt that the highest-ranked player in IU’s 2006 recruiting class would wind up at the position. After all, he put up big numbers as a running back at Hinsdale South H.S., and many thought if he played defense that safety was a more natural fit.
But the junior has added 20 pounds of muscle since he first arrived on the Bloomington campus and Ricumstrict said he’s found a home at the position.
“For me, I thought middle linebacker was a natural fit for him,” Ricumstrict said. “With his speed it gives him the ability to play sideline to sideline as opposed to one side of the field, where people can run away from you. I think where he’s at he’ll be involved, and he’s a better player when he’s involved in the action a lot.”
Last year Mayberry wasn’t involved in the action as much as he might have liked. Serving as the back-up to Adam McClurg, Mayberry totaled 42 tackles and 1 ½ tackles for loss while playing in all 13 games. But spot duty will be replaced by full-time duty this fall, which he welcomes.
“It’s really exciting,” Mayberry said. “I’m going from a role player to a starter, and I’m excited to get that chance.”
Mayberry will team with a couple of relative savvy veterans in senior Geno Johnson and junior Will Patterson. Johnson has 26 starts to his credit while Patterson has 18. Patterson ranked second on the team with 104 tackles and 11 ½ tackles for loss last season, while Johnson added 58 stops and three tackles for loss.
“Our goal is to be one of the top linebacking corps in the Big Ten,” Mayberry said. “We have three guys coming back with a lot of experience, so there’s no reason we can’t be that.”
Ricumstrict thinks it’s more than a possibility, but rather a must. This is the most experience and depth he’s had to work with at the position since arriving in Bloomington, and he’s expecting his group of guys to lead an IU defense that ranked ninth in the Big Ten last season in rush defense, pass defense and total defense.
“I think we should and we have to be a strength of our defense,” Ricumstrict. “We’ve got a lot of experience, we have talent, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be one of the solid groups of this defense.”
The only unproven commodity is Mayberry, but Ricumstrict thinks he’s going to bring a new dimension to the position this fall.
“He’s a better athlete than Adam was last year at the position,” Ricumstrict said. “Adam survived on his wits. He understood the position, understood the things he had to do to survive. Matt has all the physical tools to be a special player at the position for us.”
This is McCallum’s third head coaching job. He compiled a 126-76 record in seven years at Ball State, leading his alma mater to NCAA tourney berths in both 1995 and 2000. McCallum then went to Houston, where his teams went 44-73 in four years and earned a spot in the 2002 NIT.