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Top MAC Football Players of 2013: #57, Justin Cherocci, Central Michigan LB

Quietly, one of the leading tacklers in the MAC.

Justin Cherocci, just making another tackle.
Justin Cherocci, just making another tackle.

I swear this isn't a punter, or a kicker. Number 57 on our list brings us to our first CMU Chippewa, linebacker Justin Cherocci. He put together a very solid sophomore season, and returns for his junior season as Central's leading tackler.

Cherocci despite being a sophomore, was the CMU leader in tackles last year with 132 which also ranked him fifth in the MAC and 19th nationally. For his efforts, he was named CMU's co-defensive player of the year.

That season for the junior to be from Rochester Hills, Michigan came out of nowhere, because as a freshman he totaled just 29 tackles. But thrust into a starting role, and on a defense that didn't have a ton of skill up front, or in the seconday, and also relies heavily on its linebackers to step up and make tackles, Cherocci rose to the occasion. While his numbers aren't flashy (a theme among most of the CMU linebackers), just two and a half tackles for loss, two passes defended, and no sacks or interceptions, he was the steady hand for the CMU linebackers.

Cherocci last year had seven games where he reached double digit tackles, and was the teams leading tackler in six of those games. He also had two games where he recorded 15 tackles.

While his rise as one of the conferences leading tacklers may have come as a surprise to those outside the program, folks and CMU, and Brother Rice High School weren't shocked. Racking up tackles was his specialty even in his school. He lead the entire state of Michigan in tackles his junior year of high school with 193, and topped it his senior year with 220.

For this season, expect what you saw last year from Cherocci, him constantly near the ball on running plays and short passes, and numerous games with double digit tackles. It would be nice to see the coaches give him a little more responsibility in the blitzing and pass defending game, but if he's the run game anchor who prevents runners from getting into the secondary, that'll be just fine too, as we learned last year.