WILLIAMSBURG — George Beerhalter isn't superstitious, but the thought crossed his mind that he might be jinxed. Hand, toe, wrist, foot. It was always something that sidelined him during the season or shelved him for offseason workouts.
William and Mary's rising senior defensive tackle wondered if he would ever be physically able to reach his sizeable potential. Knock on wood, he's been healthy since last winter, and the results are apparent.
"It feels totally different," Beerhalter said Saturday following the Tribe's annual spring game. "I've actually been able to make gains in the weight room, with benching, squatting, everything like that. I just feel more conditioned because I've been able to do spring running. You can just tell how I look on film. I'm more fluid with everything. I'm not playing catchup."
Beerhalter and his defensive mates lived in the offensive backfield for large portions of Saturday's game, and Beerhalter himself had a big-time sack.
"This is the first time he's really been able to get invested in our offseason conditioning and strength program," Tribe defensive line coach Trevor Andrews said. "He's working his tail off and it's showing up on the field."
"I wouldn't say he's unblockable," head coach Jimmye Laycock said, "but he's been very difficult for our offensive guys to block."
Beerhalter was one of two players to earn the Tribe's offseason workout award, along with safety Jerome Couplin III. Beerhalter, Couplin and offensive lineman Matt Crisafi were named team captains for next season.
"As a defensive line, we worked mostly on how to get more production," junior defensive tackle Jasper Coleman said. "We didn't get the production that we wanted to last year. Over the spring, I think we worked really hard."
Beerhalter and Coleman were among the Tribe's walking wounded along the defensive line during last year's 2-9 campaign. Beerhalter broke his right hand against Towson. He played the remainder of the season essentially one-handed, wearing a padded cast.
Coleman injured the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Lafayette. He missed the next two games and returned against Georgia State, wearing a brace and more limited than before. Ends Stephen Sinnott and Bryan Stinnie were plagued by injuries, as well. Reserve end Mike Reilly was the Tribe's most productive defensive lineman.
"We're used to being dynamic up front and we weren't dynamic," Andrews said. "Everybody was banged up. We weren't physically good enough to overcome that. We weren't dynamic to begin with and then you throw injuries on top of it … We were just hanging on up there, and we were not as productive as we needed to be."
Beerhalter eventually lost his starting job and was simply part of the defensive tackle rotation, with Coleman, former walk-on Nick Zaremba and true freshman Tyler Claytor.
"It's hard looking at it from the other side, sitting on the bench for the first few plays," Beerhalter said. "But you have to do whatever you have to do to have the best chance to win. Me, with one arm, I was incapable of doing a lot of stuff. Jasper was playing well, Nick was playing well. It was frustrating inside, because I wished I had another hand, but it made me appreciate whenever I do have the chance to play. I cherish it."
Beerhalter was sidelined for spring practice last year following surgery on his right big toe. In 2010, he injured his left wrist in the playoff game versus Georgia Southern and eventually required surgery the following spring. He broke his right foot his senior year in high school.
"I started to think, what's it going to feel like when I'm 100 percent healthy?" he said. "Actually, it feels good."
Productivity, for the defensive line, is measured not just by tackles, but tackles-for-loss, sacks, hits on the quarterback, pass deflections, and disruptions – when quarterbacks and running backs are forced out of their intended lanes and comfort zones.
At his best, the 6-foot-21/2, 275-pound Beerhalter rates well in most areas.
"He doesn't have an outstanding 'anything,' he's just very good at everything," Andrews said. "No one aspect is off-the-charts. Strength isn't off-the-charts, speed isn't off-the-charts. He's a blue-collar defensive lineman that just gets it."
Coleman, a 6-4, 290-pound rising junior, still wears a brace on his left knee and said he began the spring a little hesitantly.
"I was trying to take it easy," he said, "and then I felt fine, I just went. I feel 100 percent now. Hopefully, by next season, I'll have the brace off."
The Tribe returns every significant contributor along the defensive line except Zaremba. All went through the spring healthy, save for Stinnie, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery recently but is expected to be fine by this summer.
"The biggest issue we had last year was in quality depth," defensive coordinator Scott Boone said. "If you're going to be a good defense stopping the run, you've got to be deep up front. You have to have guys coming in off the sideline breathing fire and ready to go. You can't leave a defensive lineman in the game too many plays in a row and expect them to be physical the whole time.
"If we get everybody healthy and everybody playing well, we think we have seven or eight guys we feel like are ready to go in and play a college football game. Last year we had maybe five or six."
The Tribe aims to improve a defense that finished in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. W&M was sixth against the rush (159.8), fifth in total defense (353.3) and in opponents' third-down conversion (41.3), seventh in opponents' total first downs (232) and ninth in sacks (14).
"Productivity is coming along," Andrews said. "It's still not there, where I want it, and it's not where they want it. But I think it's better."Copyright © 2015, CT Now