New Hampshire Football Report

Linebacker may be strength of UNH defense

DURHAM – Junior-to-be Quinlen Dean piled up tackles and had a breakout season last year and Jared Kuehl, who will be a senior, turned in another big-play season despite missing several games due to injury.

Dean and Kuehl return this year to backbone what may be the strongest unit in what is shaping up as a solid University of New Hampshire football defense.

They’re joined by the likes of juniors Michael Balsamo and Cameron Brusko along with sophomore-to-be Steven Harper and a few younger players.

“It’s a good, talented group,” said UNH assistant coach Garrett Gillick, who works with the linebackers. “I’m looking forward to big things with them. Most of them have two or three years left. I’m excited about the group. They were productive last year and I’m hoping they continue the trend this year.”

The Wildcats are two-thirds of the way through spring football. They close out their 15-session string of spring practices with the annual Blue-White game in Wildcat Stadium on May 5 at 11 a.m. UNH opens the 2018 season with a game at Maine on Aug. 30.

Kuehl was fourth on the team in tackles two years ago as a sophomore. Dean was immense last season and led the team with 124 tackles, 80 unassisted and 44 assisted. The next closest Wildcat had a total of 73 tackles.

“Jared just kind of has a feel for football in general,” Gillick said. “You can tell him to do one thing, draw it up on a board and then you go out there and you see it happen on the field. The offense does something different and he just naturally reacts. Kind of does the thing if you were watching on tape you’d be like, that’s what I’d tell you to do. He’s a very, very bright kid. He’s close to a 4.0 student, up around a 3.9, political science major.”

Kuehl, 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, has improved each year.

“He’s one of those kids that doesn’t take very many reps to get things right,” Gillick said. “One or two times and he’s going to do it right from there on out. Each year he’s been in the program and learned the defense he’s gotten much, much better. Now he’s almost like having a coach on the field, which is really, really good.”

Dean, 6-foot and 230 pounds, made big plays as a redshirt freshman in 2016, too, when he had three interceptions and a couple of fumble recoveries to go with 38 tackles.

Dean and Kuehl have many of the same traits, Gillick said.

“They have a nose for the ball,” the coach said. “It’s a testament to them. They know what the offense is doing. They understand what we’re expecting from them on a given call and they go out and execute it and put themselves in a position to make plays. They’re done a really nice job with that.”

Case in point for Dean, a 43-14 UNH win at home over Stony Brook on Oct. 29, 2016.

Because of injuries, Dean got extra playing time that day. He responded with two interceptions – both of which UNH turned into touchdowns – and also forced a fumble that he recovered.

Dean was named STATS FCS Defensive National Player of the Week for his efforts.

His 124 tackles last year were the most for a Wildcat since linebacker Akil Anderson had the same number in 2013. He just missed UNH’s Top 10 list for tackles in a season. Matt Evans is at No. 10 with 126.

Dean was fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association with 8.9 tackles per game.

“We’re expecting big things from him,” Gillick said. “He’s another one: It’s important to him. It means a lot.”

Balsamo, who moved over from one of the safety spots last spring, and Harper each had 31 tackles last season. Balsamo, 6-foot and 216 ponds, also had 6.5 tackles for a loss and Harper had a pair of interceptions.

“For Mike, it’s really been only a year and he’s made tremendous strides,” Gillick said. “It’s a testament to him. It’s a little different: you’re mixing it up with guys who are a lot bigger and things happen a lot faster the closer you get to the football. He’s done a really nice job with it. He’s earned the trust of the guys on the defense and on the staff.”

So, too, has Harper.

“He got hurt in the spring and started to earn the trust of the coaching staff as the year went on and he started to play more meaningful snaps,” Gillick said. “He’s taken some really nice strides. . . . They’ve both made big plays through the course of their careers.”

Younger players in the mix include redshirt freshmen R.J. Janeczek, 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds, and Kyle Hamper, 6-foot and 213 pounds, sophomore Jackson Housman, 6-foot-1 and 213, and freshman J.J. Jerome, 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds.


Allen Lessels is the UNH Insider. Follow him on Twitter: @UNHInsider.

This is one in a series of stories New Hampshire Football Report is posting this spring about position groups on the UNH football team.

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