LEWISBURG, Pa. – It shouldn't come as any surprise that Mark Pyles and Ben Richard complete each other's thoughts off the field. After all, when they're on the field Bucknell's starting senior linebackers often communicate without saying a word.
“The communication between Ben and Mark is outstanding,” said head coach Joe Susan. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s non-verbal because they know each other so well. They’re two of the hardest workers on our team, and, when your better players are your hardest workers, it makes coaching simpler.”
Pyles and Richard are also two of the more formidable linebackers in the Patriot League. Each a two-time All-Patriot League selection, they have combined for a staggering 323 tackles (180 solo) over the course of their two seasons as starters. When asked what has made them successful, they agreed they've made each other better since they first arrived in Lewisburg back in the summer of 2014.
“Coming in freshman year, we've always had a pretty solid bond,” Pyles said. “We room together during every team camp so we've gotten to know more about each other off the field. We have great chemistry on the field and feed off each other. He brings the energy, and I make sure everyone's focused.”
In 2015, Pyles was the team leader with 95 tackles (53 solo). A year ago, Richard paced the Bison with the same number (55 solo). Richard, who was voted to the 2017 Patriot League Preseason All-League Team, holds a slight 7-6 edge in double-figure tackle games.
One of Bucknell’s best blitzers, Richard also owns 7.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss.
“Ben plays a physical game,” Susan said. “He’s very athletic and has the ability to play deep middle run through.”
Added Pyles: “He lightens things up, but, when it's time to turn it on, Ben's the most intense person out there.”
Pyles came to Bucknell as a 4A All-State quarterback out of Lebanon High School. Though he’s made a seamless transition from creating offense to disrupting it, he can still call himself a quarterback of a different sort.
“There’s no doubt he’s the quarterback of the defense,” Susan said. “He calls all of our defensive calls, and he’s an outstanding kid.”
Added Richard: “Everybody really looks up to Mark because he's doing the right thing all the time. He's also probably the fittest, biggest Bison ever, and he's athletically fantastic.”
Matt Robinson and Sam Chitty enter the preseason as the primary backups. Pyles and Richard praised Robinson, who they joked was a “character” and a “goofball” before agreeing he's a “great guy to have in the linebacker room.”
“He's a tough kid,” Richard said. “It's been a really good camp for everyone, but Matt has probably had the best camp in our room.”
Susan highlighted Simeon Page, who joined the Bison from the Air Force Academy Preparatory School before spring ball, as one of his freshmen to watch on the defensive side of the ball.
“Simeon plays with speed and strength,” Susan said. “He was impressive during spring ball, and I think he’s going to find his way into the defense in some capacity.”
NOTES: Bucknell has 10 linebackers on the roster: four seniors, one junior, one sophomore and four freshmen ... Mike Weick, a first-year assistant coach on Susan's staff, is set to work with the linebackers ... Tom Adams is competing with sophomore safety Jon Fox and freshman defensive end Mike Colantuono for the long snapping job ... Chitty was the lone freshman to start last year's season opener at Marist but was injured in the following game and missed the rest of the season ... Pyles, Richard and defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson are Bucknell's captains; as a junior, Pyles served as captain alongside Julién Davenport and Ben Schumacher ... Pyles, a three-time Bucknell Strength and Conditioning MVP, has moved some serious weights in the weight room during camp ... On the 2017 roster, Richard's total of 23 starts is second only to Anderson's 33; Pyles, who has 20, is tied for fourth with safety Connor Golden ... Unsurprisingly, Pyles and Richard have been all over the field during training camp ... Robinson and Chitty have taken reps with the second team and have also appeared regularly on special teams ... Richard said he's impressed with how quickly freshmen Ryan Brida, Maanik Lal, Rick Mottram and Page have picked up Bucknell's defensive schemes: “The younger guys have picked things up faster than me and Mark did when we were freshmen. They're real smart guys, and it's made our job of bringing them along easy.”
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