For the Georgetown defense, the 2007 season came to a close not with a triumphant fourth-down stop nor with the disappointment of surrendering a late-game touchdown. It came not with shrieks of joy nor with the cries of defeat. Instead, the 2007 campaign thudded to a close, silently, with just over a minute remaining in its final game, after an opposing Cornell player was knocked unconscious and forced to the hospital.

Georgetown saw itself on the wrong end of a 45-12 margin, and neither coach saw any reason to keep playing.

Now though, 10 months later, Georgetown hopes to retake the field – this time not at the Multi-Sport Facility but rather across town at Howard’s Greene Stadium – and make a statement as loud as last year’s finale was quiet.

“We’re being more aggressive up front,” Head Coach Kevin Kelly said recently, expounding on the numerous ways he feels his defense has improved. “The back end, the linebackers and the secondary, we’ve cut down our coverage package so we’re more efficient there and we execute better.

“We’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re faster. The kids understand what we’re doing now,” he said.

For the Hoyas, the simple truth is that there is nowhere for the defense to go but up. Last season, Georgetown finished 109th out of 116 Division I-AA teams in both total and scoring defense, and 114th out of 116 in rushing defense. The Hoyas allowed fewer than 20 points just once all season, with that effort coming in Georgetown’s lone victory, a 20-17 win over Bucknell.

But with a defensive line bolstered by a core group of returning upperclassmen, cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it-holds good health and a long line of underclassmen willing to cycle in, Kelly, defensive guru Rob Sgarlata and the Hoyas hope that a strong front line is the first step to a resurrected defense.

“The D-line is probably our most experienced group on the defense,” senior defensive lineman Anthony DiTommaso said. “We’ve got several seniors and some juniors that have a lot of experience, and right now, we’re looking stronger than we have, we’re looking the strongest yet, our pass rushing is great, we’re stopping the run, we’re bigger up front, so already we’re looking pretty good.”

Anchoring that defensive line is senior defensive end Ataefiok Etukeren, who Sgarlata says has been drawing NFL scouts to Georgetown throughout the preseason. “He’s got a lot of God-given ability, and he has a great work ethic,” Sgarlata said. “He’s one of those guys that is first to the weight room and last to leave, and you know it shows in everything he does. . His greatest attribute is he probably runs as well as any of our linebackers.”

Etukeren said Monday that perhaps the most improved aspect of the defense is its pass rush, which ranked 115th out of 116 last year.

“Last year we were not very good at all in terms of our pass rush, we didn’t get that many sacks or tackles for losses,” he said. “But watching preseason, watching our film and pass-rush drills, we’ve been pretty good at that.”

Etukeren added that his goals for the season include averaging at least a sack per game. Along with DiTommaso, Etukeren will be joined on the line by senior Travis Zorrilla, juniors Chudi Obianwu and Jared Myers, sophomores Danny Thompson and George Cullen and freshman Andrew Schaetzke. It will be this group that is charged with leading the run defense in a complete 180.

oving down the field, Georgetown’s linebacking squad is led by last season’s second-leading tackler Nick Parrish, a sophomore out of Irving, Texas. Parrish missed the spring with an injury, but, according to Kelly, is back in top form.

“He has real good speed for a linebacker and that’s something that we’ve tried to do since we’ve been here, is get more speed at that position because football is more open these days, it is grass basketball. So he’s our top inside performer,” Kelly said.

Also suiting up at linebacker is junior Joey Tavarez, in addition to sophomores Paul Sant’Ambrogio and Patrick O’Donnell.

Sean McNally, a sophomore who saw action in nine games a year ago, is set to contribute as rover and outside linebacker. Shadowing McNally will be fellow rover Wayne Heimuli, a Tonga-native who went to high school in Dallas and boasts what is possibly the most unique middle name in Georgetown football history: Aircraft.

“I have no idea,” he said of its origins. “My parents both work for airlines. They joke they were just waiting to get back to work after my mom gave birth.

“My teammates think it’s hilarious. It really isn’t too funny.”

In the secondary, it is juniors Travis Mack, a two-year starter, and Chris Rau who are set to transform what was a successful, if inexperienced, unit last year into one of the team’s strengths. While they ranked 47th in Division I-AA in pass defense, all parties agree that there is still a long way to go.

“It’s going to be another one of those positions where a lot of those guys play, but I think we have great leadership because Mack and Rau have really learned a lot in two years of playing back there,” Sgarlata said. “I think they are starting to get it.”

Added Mack: “I think what’s going to make the defense strong is our ability to run to the football and how good a shape we are in.”

According to Rau, it is Mack that quarterbacks the defense.

“Travis is great. He’s been a three-year starter now, so he really knows what’s going on,” he said. “He’s been the leader of the defense back there, making all the calls, so its nice that he’s got all that experience and we all kind of rally around him.”

Kelly and Sgarlata also point to Dennis Jackson, Enico Jones, Willie Bodrick and freshman Jayah Kaisamba as potential contributors in the secondary.

Indeed, one of the strengths of the defense is its depth – a strength that fits nicely with Kelly’s renewed desire to stress a role-playing system.

“We’re gonna role-play a lot of folks. We’ll play a lot of guys but we’re gonna use their strengths and make sure we get the right type of people on the field at the right time,” Kelly said. “[We haven’t done] as much here as we probably should have. Part of that was just that we were so young, but we’re getting to a point now that we know our personnel and know what their strengths are and their weaknesses, and we try to manage the weakness and get the guys on the field that we think can make the plays in the particular situation.”

For the new system to work, the coaches emphasized that players are asked to make sacrifices.

“As every player, they want to play every snap, which is what makes a guy good,” Sgarlata said. “They don’t want to be on the bench. . They’ve been through a lot together, this group, but they’ve stuck together and really played tough together, but no matter what you say when we’re at the end of the day, you’re gonna say our defense played tough football.”

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