CLINTON — Tyler Hudson has a different role with the Hamilton College defense.
Hudson is known as a standout defensive end around the Mohawk Valley after earning all-state football honors while playing for nearby Whitesboro High School and two strong seasons at Hamilton College.
Now, as Hudson begins his junior season with the Continentals, he’s moving from the defensive line to linebacker. The move comes because of added depth to Hamilton College’s defensive line and the loss of standout linebacker Mickey Keating, who led last year’s team with 72 tackles.
The Continentals, who haven’t had a winning campaign since 1996, open their season at 1 p.m. Saturday against New England Small College Athletic Conference foe Tufts. The contest will be a first for Hudson.
"I did play linebacker in recruiting camps and stuff like that, but never actually in a game," Hudson said. "The last time was probably seventh grade."
Hudson hopes the move helps a Hamilton defense that allowed 353.9 yards (seventh-most in the 10-team NESCAC) and 26.9 points (eighth-most) per game last season.
"Hopefully I can get to more of the field as a linebacker rather than one side of a defensive line," said Hudson, who is a returning starter along with linebacker Cole Burchill (55 tackles) and safety Colby Jones (32 tackles, two interceptions).
As a sophomore, Hudson was an all-NESCAC first-team selection after leading the Continentals with 12 tackles for loss and four sacks; he was among the conference leaders in both categories. Overall, Hudson made 47 tackles, had 30 solo stops, and added three pass breakups and a forced fumble. In 16 career games, Hudson has 94 tackles (67 solo) with 24 1/2 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
″(Hudson is) just an animal on the field," said Burchill, whose 55 total tackles last season were second-most behind Keating. "We’re looking forward to seeing him in a new position."
Dave Murray, who is in his fourth season as Hamilton coach, is impressed with Hudson and his leadership. Hudson is a captain along with Burchill, receiver Alec Waugh and running back Marcus Gutierrez.
Hudson feels the transition to linebacker is going well. The speedy Hudson is six feet tall, and he said he has "lost a few pounds" from the 228 he checked in at last season.
"Hopefully, I got faster just from losing some weight," he said. "Physically, it is going well. Mentally, it is different. It is a lot more complicated. ... But right now, it is just review, so it is helping out a lot."
While the Continentals aren’t as experienced on defense, Hudson said he believes they have solid players filling spots. Hudson and Murray mentioned tackle Will Rothschild as one player who stands out.
"Our interior and exterior defensive line is looking phenomenal," Hudson said. "A lot of guys have stepped up."
Here are few other things to know about the Continentals:
The Continentals return at least 10 starters on offense.
Among them are Waugh (team-best 774 all-purpose yards), Gutierrez (team-best 419 yards rushing and two touchdowns). Quarterback Kenny Gray, who started toward the end of last season as a freshman, is expected to lead the offense. Despite losing all-NESCAC receiver Charles Ensley (1,457 career yards receiving), Murray likes what he sees, especially up front.
"Offensively, we should be a much-improved group," said Murray, whose team averaged a NESCAC-low 11.9 points last season.
Waugh said the offense has been simplified this season, which is helpful.
"We want to take it to the next level, which is consistency," Waugh said. "It’s all about executing."
Hamilton College finished 3-5 last season after winning two of its last three games. The Continentals have won three games one other time since 1998.
Murray hopes the late surge gives the Continentals some momentum heading into this season.
Players credit Murray with helping move the program in the right direction. The next step is getting to .500 or above, Hudson said.
"I think he’s really ... put us in situations where we can succeed," Gutierrez said of Murray, who had three losing seasons while coaching Alfred University from 1998 to 2013. "He’s very player-centric."
Murray said Hamilton will be tested early; the Continentals play conference powers Tufts, Amherst (Sept. 23 at home), Wesleyan (Sept. 30 at home) and Oct. 7 at Trinity in their first four games.
For the first time, the NESCAC schools will each play a nine-game schedule this season.
While that means losing a week of preparation — NESCAC teams have a later start, per conference rules — one more game is fine with the Continentals. With no postseason play allowed for the NESCAC teams, it also means a clear-cut conference champion.
"Without question, we lean towards ‘hey we’re happy to have that ninth game,’" Murray said.