NETTLETON A pair of ball hawks are at the heart of Nettleton’s defense this year.

Marcus Thomas and Davis Oswalt man the inside linebacker spots in the Tigers’ 3-4 alignment. That tandem was the biggest reason Nettleton’s defense forced 26 turnovers in 10 games last season.

Thomas not only led the team in tackles (116), tackles-for-loss (13) and sacks (5), he forced four fumbles and recovered two. Oswalt had 66 tackles, recovered two fumbles and recorded three interceptions.

“I love going to the ball,” Thomas said. “The contact just gets my blood moving.”

Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, transferred from Okolona prior to last season. His impact was immediate, and he only got better as the season progressed.

With improved technique, he should be even more troublesome for opposing offenses this fall.

“He’s a beast,” Oswalt said. “He just finds the ball and gets his head in on it.”

As for Oswalt, the 5-11, 180-pound junior is playing a different position. He was an outside linebacker last season but was moved inside after the graduation of Pierce Thornton.

Already a solid pass defender, Oswalt improved that part of his game in the offseason. The only big adjustment he will need to make is being stronger against the run.

“Davis is just a natural athlete. The move wasn’t really too hard for him,” coach Ken Topps said.

With Thomas and Oswalt in the middle, he added, “… it’s like having two quarterbacks on the field. They know the defense, they understand all the reads they’ve got to make, understand how to get the defense in the right position depending on how the offense lines up.”

Nettleton, which went 4-6 last season, returns eight starters on defense. It was the strength of a team that last year finished last in the division in points scored.

“We’re stacked. We’ve got most of our starters back, and they’re all good,” Oswalt said. “We had some good games last year on defense, but this year I think we can be even better.”

Nettleton opens the season Aug. 23 at Bruce.

brad.locke@journalinc.com Twitter: @bradlocke

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