It’s not often a Division II football team has a pair of NFL-caliber pass rushers on the field at the same time, but that was a luxury University of Charleston football coach Pat Kirkland had last season.
John Cominsky and Kahzin Daniels combined for 12½ sacks and 35 tackles for loss in 2018. Now they’re both trying to make their mark as professionals. Cominsky was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons and looks like he’ll be a part of the team’s defensive line rotation. Daniels signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie free agent and currently sits on the team’s injured reserve list.
The great part about that is the Golden Eagles can point to the duo as examples of what UC defenders can become. The bummer: that production is gone.
So as Charleston prepares to welcome Fairmont State to UC Stadium on Thursday, Kirkland and the Golden Eagles are looking for ways to keep disrupting opponents’ backfields. Cominsky and Daniels might be gone, but the lessons the players have learned from them remain.
Kirkland admits trying to replace that production is no easy task.
“Those guys you don’t replace,” he said. “You try to reload the best that you can. And I think that we did it, we just did it in some different areas.”
Where last year’s pressure came from the edges, Kirkland said it could come from the middle of the defense this season. He pointed to defensive lineman Kenny Randall, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound junior who was third on the team and leads all returning players with 13½ tackles for loss.
“He’s doing a great job because he’s a tremendous athlete, plus he’s a big body,” Kirkland said.
He also expects Charleston’s linebackers to get into the mix, including strong-side linebacker Michael Perry and middle linebacker Kal-El Williams. Both were reserves last season – Williams played in eight games and Perry six – but that could be understood when players like Jalen Nelson and C.J. Bagwell, a pair of All-Mountain East second-teamers, and Keon Maybin make up the starting lineup.
But Perry and Williams are ready to move into the starting 11 on defense and UC coaches expect them to cause some chaos up the middle.
Just because Cominsky and Daniels have departed Charleston, Williams said they’re not forgotten. Golden Eagles defenders still remember their words of advice on how to approach their jobs both on and off the field.
“We had those two guys as leaders, as senior leaders,” Williams, a former Florida Atlantic player, said, “and they taught the people under them. They weren’t just players who came out and did their thing. They helped the players who were under them to understand the game, to see where the game fits, when to work and move and when not to work and move and to have a plan B.”
With Cominsky and Daniels in the lineup, opponents always knew who they had to focus on in stopping the pass rush. Kirkland thinks the 2019 UC defense will be a little different, that opposing teams will look at the film and realize there isn’t one or two players they can key on. They’ll need to keep an eye on the entire field.
“We always talked about teams like Fairmont, they make you defend the whole formation,” he said. “Defensively, I think we’re more like that. We’ve got balance across the board. We’ve got good guys up front and three good linebackers, so I think we’re a lot more balance.”