BOCA RATON – Often referred to as the quarterback of the defense, many of the middle linebacker’s responsibilities occur before the ball is snapped. He needs to read the offensive formation and often change defensive alignment to ensure the players around him are in the proper spot.
Once the ball is snapped, the middle linebacker needs to get to the ball. The Top 3 tacklers in FAU program history played (or play) middle linebacker. Who did the best job manning the position?
While considering the best of the best at FAU, players were judged on their performance (statistics), what they meant to their team and sheer physical talent. As part of our research for this list we consulted with former players, former coaches and media members who’ve covered the Owls. Reaching the NFL is an indicator of talent, but players who played professionally weren’t necessarily placed above some who didn’t.
With that in mind, let’s get to the list.
Top 5 FAU Middle Linebackers
5. David Hinds (2009-12): Recorded a career-high 104 tackles in 2011 as a junior – the year FAU switched to a 3-4. He followed that with 80 more as a senior, when the Owls switched back to a 4-3. Hinds recorded 19 tackles for loss and forced four fumbles during his FAU career, then embarked on a three-year stint with Ottawa in the CFL. Shomari Earls, who played both inside and outside, and registered 87 tackles in 2005 en route to becoming an All-Sun Belt selection, nearly claimed this spot. Earls played arena and Canadian football after FAU.
4. Michael Lockley (2006-10): An absolutely freakish athlete, Lockley played in 50 games, registering 234 tackles – 10th most all-time at FAU. Lockley began his career as an outside linebacker, before moving inside in 2009. The 120 tackles Lockley recorded in 2010 are the fourth most in a single season by an Owl. He was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection following that season, earning an invitation to the Eastham Energy Bowl collegiate all-star game. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent and became the first former FAU defensive player to play in an NFL game.
3. Andrae Kirk (2011-14): A student of the game, Kirk registered at least 70 tackles every year for FAU en route to 332 career tackles – third most all-time. Kirk lived in the film room, essentially becoming another coach in meeting rooms and on the field for the Owls. Kirk was also one of FAU’s best pass covers in program history – regardless of position. He’s the only non-defensive back listed among the Owls’ Top 10 for passes defended. If Kirk had better hands, he would have doubled, maybe tripled, his three career interceptions. Kirk earned second-team All-Conference USA honors in 2013, jumping to the first team the following season. After the 2014 season he played in the 2014 Medal of Honor collegiate all-star game.
2. Frantz Joseph (2006-08): Those who played with and coached Joseph will often say he was the best middle linebacker they saw. It’s easy to see their point. A tackling machine who began his career at Boston College, Joseph’s 154 tackles in 2008 are the single-season high in program history. His 131 tackle the year prior are the third most. FAU concluded both of those seasons with a bowl victory, and in 2008 Joseph was the Motor City Bowl Defensive MVP. He earned All-Sun Belt honors in 2007 and 2008. Joseph signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent following his senior season, but didn’t play in a regular season game.
1. Azeez Al-Shaair (2015-Present): Concluding that Al-Shaair still had a little work to do to claim the top spot would have been an easy punt. After all, he still has one year of eligibility remaining and there wouldn’t have been much uproar had Joseph grabbed the top spot, as many believe he deserves. But an honest assessment lands Al-Shaair at No. 1. With 354 tackles, Al-Shaair already has the most in FAU history. His 147 last season – playing most of the year with an elbow that would require offseason ligament replacement surgery – were the second most in a season by an Owl. And that followed a 113-tackle season. As a freshman, Al-Shaair earned USA Today and C-USA All-Freshman honors and last season he was an All-Conference USA choice. Al-Shaair could have turned pro following the 2017 season but elected to return for his senior year. He needs 12 tackles for loss to tie Trey Hendrickson for the most in program history. And none of that touches on Al-Shaair’s leadership in the locker room – which is unquestioned. Earlier this summer Al-Shaair earned the Wilma Rudolph award, presented to college athletes who have overcome “great academic, and/or emotional odds.” Al-Shaair is the real deal. And he’s already the best middle linebacker in FAU history.
FAU Football Top 5 Position Countdown
- Running Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Tight Ends
- Interior Linemen
- Defensive Ends
- Defensive Tackles
- Middle Linebackers
- Outside Linebackers
- Special Teams