Football, academics steer W&M’s Matt Ahola toward PT career

Matt Ahola will graduate in December — he’s majoring in kinesiology with a health sciences concentration — and he’s already planning for grad school and a career in physical therapy. But there is a more pressing matter.

Ahola wants his final William and Mary football season to purge the sting of last year. That quest hinges in large measure on him and his defensive line mates.

This marks Ahola’s third season as a starter at end, quite the accomplishment for a former walk-on. In his first year as a starter, 2015, the Tribe shared the Colonial Athletic Association title, advanced one round in the Championship Subdivision playoffs and finished 9-4. Last season, W&M dipped to 5-6.

There were many reasons, crippling turnovers by the offense among them. But the most striking numbers revolve around the defensive line.

In 2015, the Tribe recorded 22 sacks and allowed opponents 4.2 yards per rush. The numbers didn’t approach stout, but they were serviceable.

Last season, the sack total plummeted to 10, while yards per carry ballooned to 5.11, a crushing combination. Among 122 FCS teams, only Western Carolina (nine) had fewer sacks. Similarly, W&M ranked 105th in yards-per-carry defense.

The 10 sacks matched the Tribe’s low of the last 40 years. The 5.11 yards per carry was the program’s worst since 5.13 in 1991.

“We as a defensive line want to be more productive than we were last year, no doubt about it,” Ahola said as training camp opened. “This defense feeds off our energy and our production.”

Coached by former Virginia Tech defensive tackle Kevin Lewis — he had four sacks as a junior in 2003 — the line should be better. Ahola and All-CAA third-teamer Isaiah Stephens, a 310-pound tackle, started every game in 2016. Ends Gavin Johnson and Joe Suarez and tackle Bill Murray earned a combined five starts, Johnson becoming the program’s first true freshman to start at defensive end in 14…

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