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AFL Spotlight: Linebackers to Watch and Know

Updated at Mar 13, 2024

Linebackers are key in every great defense. Most of the time your communicators are in the linebacking core. Connecting back end of the defense to the front end. In Arena Football, they are critical to a defense's success.

Photo Credit to Hawai'i Athletics

Linebackers are key in every great defense. Most of the time your communicators are in the linebacking core. Connecting back end of the defense to the front end. If a team has a gap in communication, this more often than not is the reason a defense struggles.

In Arena Football, there are two main types of linebackers. ‘Mac’ and ‘Jack’ are the two terms to know. Mac linebackers line up on the ‘strong side’ of the formation. The Mac can only rush between the center and guard gap until the quarterback leaves the pocket. The Jack linebacker lines up across from the tight end. Jacks have a more restricted zone they are allowed to be in, that being wall-to-wall and only 5 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage. Jacks can go downfield if they are covering a tight end or fullback on a pass play.

The best way to think of each position is Mac is more of a pass rusher, and Jack is more of a coverage player. In the outdoor game of football, a Mac would typically be an inside linebacker or a defensive end, purely rushing the quarterback and causing havoc in the backfield. The Jack linebacker has more coverage responsibilities. These are typically your off-ball linebackers or defensive backs. They need to have the ability to flip their hips and turn at a moment's notice but also have the size to line up a tight end.

Kolby Wyatt

Southwest Kansas Storm - Linebacker/Fullback

The Storm will be utilizing Kolby Wyatt in their linebacking core in 2023. Wyatt was with the University of Georgia for four seasons, spanning from 2017-2020. There, he appeared in four career games. Though he was not highly utilized on game days, Kolby was a key contributor to their national title run in 2017. He took reps as a tight end as well. In 2021, he transferred to the University of Hawaii. In his first season at Hawaii, he appeared in four games on special teams. In 2022, Kolby took his big career step by playing all 13 games. Kolby has a lot of experience with elite players and holds his own. The Storm might have found a diamond in the rough.

Nick Haag

Albany Firebirds - Linebacker

Nick Haag will be manning the linebacker role for the Albany Firebirds. Haag brings multiple years of professional football to the team. Nick first started his football career at UMass Amherst. Nick played all 11 games as a true freshman in 2009, collecting 12 total tackles. After his first year, he transferred to Assumption College, starting all three seasons. He went on to be a two-time All-Northeast-1 selection. As a junior, Haag led the conference in sacks. Nick was invited to the All-American Bowl and was the game's MVP. Nick has been in the AFL since 2013 as a part of the Philadelphia Soul. Haag will bring extensive experience and leadership to the Firebirds' defense.

Cecil Cherry

West Texas Desert Hawks - Linebacker

Cecil Cherry may be one of the names fans recognize right away when they watch the Desert Hawks. Cecil started his career at Texas as a 4-star recruit. He transferred the following season to the University of South Florida in 2016, where he was a backup linebacker. In 2017, at Coahoma Community College. In 2018, he transferred to Grambling State, where he played six games. In 2019, Cecil transferred to the University of Tennessee Martin. Cecil started to flourish at UTM. While there, he collected FCS National Defensive Player of the Week (11/4/19), OVC Defensive Player of the Week (11/3/19), and TSWA Defensive Player of the Week (11/5/19). Cecil Cherry stacked up 83 total tackles, 4 sacks, and a forced fumble. Cecil Cherry finally started to develop and hone in on that untapped potential for which he was highly touted out of high school.

Cherry was a monster in his limited time with the Arizona Rattlers, but that didn’t stop him from making an instant impact. Cherry only played in 5 games, and he led the league with 4 sacks. Cecil won Defensive Player of the Year for the Fan Controlled Football League for the Glacier Boyz. This will be Cherry’s fourth professional football season. In preparation for the 2024 AFL season, Cherry has spent time working on his speed and explosiveness, as well as toughness. He credits his speed coach for making him even more of a game-wrecking force and boxing coaching for making him even tougher. Quarterbacks, you have been warned, Scary Cherry is ready for 2024.

When asked about what this opportunity means to him, Cherry said, “I have been working late and long nights at a mortuary, so having the chance to play ball again is huge. I’ve been dedicated to my craft and making an impact from the second I step on the field. I am not here to just chase my dream. I am taking my dreams, so watch out.”

Ezekiel Noa

Rapid City Marshals - Linebacker/Fullback

Ezekiel Noa will bring the Marshals 6 years of collegiate experience. Ezekiel was a 3-star recruit out of Spring Valley, California. Noa will be joining the team from Boise State University. As a freshman, Noa was redshirted. In his redshirt sophomore campaign, Noa took a big leap, playing in 10 games, starting in three. Heading into his junior year of college, he started his first four games at a blistering pace but ultimately was derailed by a season-ending injury. Into his redshirt senior year (covid shortened season), Ezekiel started 7 games. In his final year two seasons, he excelled as a big-time player. Throughout college, Noa started 22 games, accumulating 126 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 15 tackles for a loss.

While at Boise State, Noa collected multiple awards, which included Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award Watch List (2022), All-Mountain West Second Team (2022), 2x All-Mountain West Honorable Mention (2020, 2021), Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week (October 10, 2022), and Frisco Bowl Defensive MVP (2022). The Marshals will look to lean on Noa’s experience and skill to lead their defense. If Noa can return to his form from 2022, the Marshals may have found a real gem.

Malik Braxton

Washington Wolfpack - Linebacker/Fullback

Malik Braxton will be asked to play all aspects of the Wolfpack's game plan. Braxton offers experience all over the field. Out of high school, he played kick return, tailback, and defensive back. Braxton’s first three seasons were spent at Western Oregon University. He led the team in both 2015 and 2016 with a total of 1046 rush yards, 8 total touchdowns, and 249 receiving yards. Malik had to sit out the 2017 season. In 2018, Braxton transferred to the University of Washington, where he played in two of their games. In 2019, Braxton was a key cog in the Huskies special team unit, playing every game.

The Wolfpack will be excited to have a versatile player of Braxton’s caliber on all sides of the ball.

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