As the season nears, we’ll rank the top five returners at each position group. Today, we give you the linebackers.
NOTE: Idaho, who is moving back to the FCS and Big Sky, is eligible for these lists. North Dakota, who plays a Big Sky schedule but is an independent while transitioning to the MVFC, is not.
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Hall showed flashes his freshman season in 2015 and saw the field more and more later in the year. The next year he finished fourth on the team with 70 tackles. Then last season, Hall recorded 78 tackles, which was third on the team, and had a team-high three interceptions.
His play earned him All-Sun Belt Honorable Mention honors as he started all 12 games. Idaho brings a talented linebacker group in its first season back in the Big Sky.
Ahanonu had a terrific welcome back to the SUU football team. After starring on the defense as a sophomore in 2014, he left for an LDS Mission following the season. Ahanonu returned last year for his junior season and barely missed a step.
Playing in just seven games, he was voted a Second Team All-Conference player after totaling 70 tackles, nine of those for lost yardage. Ahanonu is expected to have an even better senior season this year and was voted on the preseason All-Big Sky First Team.
Weber State was a top defensive unit in the Big Sky last year, which helped the Wildcats advance to the FCS quarterfinals. Toia led that unit as a junior with 79 tackles, 39 of which were solo. His five sacks were second on the team as he earned All-Big Sky First Team and American Football Coaches Association Second Team All-American honors.
Toia enters his third year of starting and has career totals of 179 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He's a preseason All-Conference selection and on our preseason All-American Second Team.
2. Kaden Elliss, Idaho
Elliss is another star on a tough Idaho defense that could cause Big Sky offenses some problems. He’s got the size at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. And he makes plays on the field, racking up 80 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and six sacks to earn a spot on the All-Sun Belt Second Team last year.
His play-making abilities didn't stop on defense. Elliss also caught seven passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He was the first FBS player since 2013 to record a sack and a touchdown catch in the same game. And he did it twice. Elliss, a senior, is on the Big Sky preseason First Team and is ranked the 44th best outside linebacker prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Buss may very well be the best linebacker in all of FCS football. With the ability to play the run and the pass, he totaled 94 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defended last year as a junior. Buss was named on a couple different All-American teams, the All-Big Sky Second Team and was a Buck Buchanan Award finalist.
His availability for his senior season is in question after battling offseason surgery. But if he’s healthy, look out. Buss was named the Big Sky’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year and on HERO Sports’ preseason All-American First Team. He’s currently ranked the 46th best outside linebacker prospect.