For Penn's linebackers, strong bonds and family are the name of the game.
This season, the Quakers’ defensive front has been particularly strong, holding opponents to an average of 17.14 points per game en route to a 6-1 record. Behind this impressive performance is a one-of-a-kind brotherhood of 15 linebackers.
Junior linebacker Jack Fairman attributes his success on the team to the guidance and leadership of the older linebackers when he was a freshman during COVID-19. In the past seven games, Fairman has claimed 25 solo tackles and 22 assisted tackles, including some clutch plays during last week's Homecoming matchup against Yale. In growing to become an upperclassman on the team, he said that one of his most important roles is to continue that legacy.
“The older guys … were really influential for my growth and for a lot of the other guys, so it really started like in that room with upperclassmen leadership,” Fairman said. “Moving on now that I'm a junior, I feel like I have to fulfill that role. It's a pretty high standard that I feel I have to live up to, and everyone around me has to live up to, so it's just a really good group of guys. And as older guys, we always bring along the younger guys.”
Penn linebackers coach Jon Dupont agrees that the strong team cohesion is largely due to the family atmosphere developed by the older players, which he tries to encourage while still leaving room to let the chemistry grow organically.
“From the seniors all the way down to the freshmen, they support each other. They truly do care and love each other,” Dupont said. “They show that on the football field, in the locker room, and in the weight room, and on the up and up on campus; there is a very tight-knit group. I think that's really sort of what makes it a special group is that how close they are as an entire unit, they know what their role is, and they own that role.”
On the field, these close connections are pertinent to a strong, organized defense. Senior linebacker Garrett Morris has made a particularly strong impact this season, with 43 tackles in seven games. Morris said that the key to the squad's defensive success is communication. He and the other linebackers on the field communicate quickly and efficiently — sometimes without even having to use words at all.
“I think that we have a great relationship off the field, which kind of helps that,” Morris said. “Even when we're not talking to each other, sometimes I know what Jack [Fairman] or what Jonathan [Melvin] are doing. They don't even need to say it to me.”
Aside from supporting the squad’s bond, Dupont strives for his group of players to be successful in all aspects even outside of the sport. Although the players attribute much of their success on the field to strong relationships and subsequent strong communication, Dupont explained that his favorite aspect of the team is how hard all the players work off the field, too.
“That's something that we pride ourselves on, is how hard we work off the field, in the weight room and in the classroom as well, because being a student-athlete is very challenging at an Ivy League school,” Dupont said. “Supporting them from an academic and athletic standpoint, and everything in between, and even socially, is really important. They know that I've got their back and that I support them. I'm their biggest fan, truly.”
Looking forward to this Saturday's game at Cornell, what Dupont seeks from his players is to make small improvements to make their game better.
“It comes down to the little things. It's the basic fundamentals of playing the position," Dupont said. “Alignment, stance, keys, responsibility, and if we can understand the basic fundamentals of playing the position, all the other stuff will come.”