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2023 Akron Zips Positional Previews: Defensive front seven

Losing the heart of your defense late in the offseason will be a blow to a front seven, but a good number of transfers come in to fill the gaps.

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Akron Zips were a program on the mend in 2022, starting what was essentially a Year Zero under new head coach Joe Moorhead. With a gigantic influx of transfers and a new system to utilize, the Zips defense made marginal improvements, going from a bottom-of-the-barrel squad to merely a medicore one.

(Which, if you had watched Akron’s defense over the prior three seasons, is certainly an upgrade.)

The defense allowed 243.8 yards per game through the air (92nd in the NCAA), 162.4 yards per game on the ground (81st), which is modest improvement over prior seasons. But the Zips were extremely unlucky in scoring defense, allowing 33.5 points per contest (117th.) This came back to bite them several times, as their inability to keep teams from scoring saw them lose five games by nine points or less.

The front seven unfortunately suffered some severe losses in leadership over the offseason, with both of their star ends (Zach Morton and Victor Jones) and six-year stalwart linebacker Bubba Arslanian all departing. That leaves a lot of unproven or unfamiliar faces to lead the charge defensively for a defense which was already sort of floundering.

The first step on the journey will be to pick up more sacks (19 sacks in 12 games; 106th in NCAA) and cause more havoc (-13 turnover margin; 128th.) If they can end drives earlier or put teams in unfavorable matchups, they can potentially improve a unit which had a sneaky efficient third-down defense in 2022 (35.2 percent; 39th.)

Let’s break down what they’ve currently got on campus:

Down linemen

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-New Mexico State at Bowling Green Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports


  • Zach Morton (graduation)
  • Victor Jones (graduation)
  • Angelo Howze (graduation)
  • Ravonte Holt (graduation)
  • Curtis Harper (graduation)
  • Curtis Fann Jr. (transfer to Western Carolina [FCS])
  • Nasir Sy (transfer to Northwestern State [FCS])
  • Logan Hawkins (not listed on 2023 roster)
  • Quevan Lawson (not listed on 2023 roster)


  • Kam Cheatam (incoming recruit)
  • Bruno Dall (incoming recruit)
  • Marcus Moore Jr. (incoming recruit)
  • Jon’Trell Mixon (incoming recruit)
  • Langston Ragland (incoming recruit)
  • Lama Lavea (transfer from New Mexico State)
  • LaJoshua Jackson (transfer from East Mississippi CC [JUCO])
  • CJ Nunnally IV (transfer from Independence [KS] CC [JUCO])
  • Tyler Carter (transfer from Fullerton [CA] CC [JUCO])
  • Kabbash Richards (transfer from East Mississippi CC [JUCO]; listed as end)
  • Antonio Smith (transfer from New Mexico Military Institute [JUCO]; listed as end)
  • Terray Jones (transfer from Tennessee State [FCS]l listed as tackle)


  • Ryan Johnson
  • Kyle Thomas
  • Bennett Adler
  • Andre Proffitt
  • Devon Robinson

The defensive line was the crux of the defense’s improvements in 2022, with Zach Morton and Victor Jones creating the majority of the team’s havoc opportunities. The combination of Jones (11.5 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks) and Morton (eight tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks) produced 10 of the team’s 19 sacks and 19.5 of the team’s 58 TFLs. That’s a significant loss for any team, but especially so for one with a shallow bench like Akron. Even losing someone like Curtis Harper (3.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks) in the rotation will be tough on the initial go.

To make up for this departure of talent, the coaching staff was particularly aggressive in bringing in transfer talents, with five (!!!) JUCO transfers and two Division I transfers arriving after spring ball to fight for various positions.

Terray Jones, formerly of Tennessee State, made a lot of noise in spring ball after arriving in the offseason, getting a head start on the defensive tackle competition. Standing at six-foot-one, 310 lbs., Jones was a four-year contributor for the Tigers, with 89 total tackles, 16.5 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks. He should slot in to a starting position right away thanks to his experience.

Joining Jones as an interior transfer with Division I experince will be Lama Lavea. A COVID redshirt junior from New Mexico State, Lavea should compete for time on the interior with a ready-made six-foot-three, 300 lbs. frame. after four years of reserve work for the Aggies.

In the JUCO ranks, Antonio Smith and Kabbash Richards are particularly interesting additions, as they’re the only players on the roster listed as defensive ends.

Smith is a six-foot-five, 235 lb. edge rusher who picked up 43 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks in nine game appearances for the Colts in 2022. Formerly of Tarleton State and Eastern Kentucky, Smith has 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and two fumbles in seven games between both programs in 2020 and 2021.

Richards, who stands at six-foot-five, 250 lbs., joins Akron from EMCC via Eastern Kentucky, where he had 50 tackles (including 10 tackles-for-loss and three sacks) over two seasons for the Colonels. Richards had 20 tackles, five TFLs and four sacks in 2022 for EMCC, en route to all-MACCC honors after a late-season surge.

LaJoshua Jackson, who stands at six-foot-three, 275 lbs., joins Richards from Scooba after collecting 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks for the Lions. He’ll be up against Clarence Nunnelly IV (35 tackles, seven TFLs, two sacks at Independence CC) and Tyler Carter (19 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacls at Fullerton CC) as potential rotation options.


NCAA Football: Akron at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports


  • Bubba Arslanian (declined seventh-year option for pro opportunity)
  • Luke Bauer (transfer to Morehead State [FCS])
  • Tim Terry (graduation)
  • Jeslord Boateng (transfer to Louisiana Tech)
  • Emmett Hanna (transfer to Boston College)


  • Melvin Springgs (incoming recruit)
  • Austin Wondolowski (incoming recruit)
  • Gage Summers (transfer from Riverside [CA] CC [JUCO])
  • Shammond Cooper (transfer from Illinois)


  • Jaharon Griffin
  • Antavious Fish
  • Bryan McCoy
  • Camari Harris

Bubba Arslanian departed just prior to fall camps, choosing to pursue potential pro opportunities instead, leaving Akron from needing to plug-and-play to completely re-configuring the heart of the defense.

It’s an indisputable loss by any measure; Arslanian was both a solid locker room presence off the field and an all-MAC performer on the field, leading Akron in tackles (132 total) in 2022 by a significant margin. (Nate Thompson, who was second on the list, finished with 73 total tackles.) Arslanian was also second on the team in tackles-for-loss (10.5), another blow to Akron’s havoc numbers. That sort of legend will be hard to replace.

Akron will have to depend on a lot of unknown quantities, as they also lost Tim Terry to graduation and Jeslord Boateng to transfer in the offseason.

Andrew Behm will have the inside track for one of those spots after surfacing late in the 2022 season. Behm finished last season with 29 total tackles, a half-sack and two pass break-ups. Antavious Fish is another on-roster option, finishing 2022 with 17 tackles, 2.5 TFLs and two sacks. Bryan McCoy had 23 tackles as well in rotation work. All three will battle for the initial spots, with two available for grabs in the 4-2-5 system Akron employs.

The Zips did bring in two transfers they hope can also fight for those positions in JUCO product Gage Summers and Illinois transfer Shamond Cooper.

Summers was a productive linebacker for Riverside [CA] CC, with 49 tackles (including one TFL and one sack), while Cooper is a former four-star prospect who primarily played special teams for the Illini. The staff hopes Cooper can find that four-star promise in fall camps, as that would instantly be a boost to the middle of the defense.

There will certainly be question marks here until the first few weeks of the season, but it sure seems like they’ll give some combo of Cooper, Behm and Fish the first swings at the bat.

This is the fourth in a series of Akron football previews, with our next piece addressing defensive backs. Please look forward to that! If you missed any of our other coverage, you can read that in our preseason preview storystream here.

Akron’s season kicks off Saturday, September 2nd at 2 p.m. Eastern time in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they are set to play the Temple Owls.