MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As noted in yesterday’s review of the defensive assistant coaches, maybe no position coach at West Virginia is tasked with replacing more talent this year than defensive line coach Andrew Jackson.

With three of his most veteran players (Dante Stills, Jordan Jefferson, and Taijh Alston) having exited the program, Jackson not only must replace their leadership but also their production. The trio combined for 75 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks last season.

A Mountain State native is expected to lead the charge in replacing that production up front for Jordan Lesley’s defense.

Our roster review series continues with a look at West Virginia’s defensive line:

DE – Junior Sean Martin

Bluefield, West Virginia native Sean Martin is one of just two players on the WVU roster who has started a game on the defensive line for WVU in the past. He started eight games at the defensive end position last season and finished seventh on the team in total tackles with 34. Martin also recorded eight tackles for loss and four sacks. He finished four games with at least 1.5 TFLs.

His most memorable performance came on a Thursday night, under the lights, in a win over Baylor. Martin tallied six tackles, one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble against the Bears.

Partially out of necessity, and partially out of maturation, Martin has taken over as the leader of West Virginia’s defensive line this offseason. His position coach said his biggest area of growth has been in his consistency. The 6-5, 293-pound defensive end continued to “show flashes” of his potential in the spring, according to head coach Neal Brown. Martin, who will help represent the Mountaineers at Big 12 Media Days later this month, has also earned some preseason all-conference recognition, most recently from Phil Steele.

DT – Redshirt Junior Jalen Thornton

Son of WVU Sports Hall of Famer John Thornton, Jalen is entering his fifth season with West Virginia. After missing four of the first five games, Thornton appeared in each of the final seven games of the season last year. Thornton once again split time between defense and special teams, seeing a season-high 37 defensive snaps against Texas Tech.

Thornton was limited at times in the spring. He is likely to see the most extended playing time he has received since arriving in Morgantown as a true freshman in 2019. Thornton has 30 career games under his belt.

DT – Fifth-Year Senior Davoan Hawkins

Brown said, “I think he’s going to be a really good fit,” when speaking of Davoan Hawkins, the veteran defensive lineman. Hawkins was added to the WVU roster in January after a successful two-year (three-season) stint at Tennessee State. He has played in 39 Division I football games since the fall of 2020. In three seasons with Tennessee State, Hawkins recorded 92 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and eight sacks. He also forced five fumbles and recovered three, and earned Hero Sports All-American honors in the spring of 2021.

This fall marks his return to the Power 5 level after he started his collegiate career with Kentucky.

DE – Junior Edward Vesterinen

One of the multiple international imports on the West Virginia roster, Edward Vesterinen has a unique background. After learning about the game of football by watching YouTube videos, the Finnish Mountaineer is likely continuing his football journey in an expanded role this fall.

Vesterinen has started one game in his career, which came in 2021. He had the best season of his collegiate career last season, when he made 10 total tackles, recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, and one sack.

DT – Redshirt Junior Mike Lockhart

Added to the roster ahead of the 2022 season, Mike Lockhart appeared in all 12 games last year for the Mountaineers. He tallied 13 total tackles, a career-high, and one tackle loss. Those 13 tackles are also the second-most of any returning defensive lineman for West Virginia.

Freshman additions/rounding out the depth chart

  • Redshirt Fifth-Year Senior Anthony Del Negro
  • Redshirt Sophomore Zeiqui Lawton
  • Redshirt Freshman Asani Redwood
  • Redshirt Sophomore Hammond Russell IV
  • Redshirt Sophomore Victor Wikstrom
  • Freshman Corey McIntyre Jr.

Key departures

  • Dante Stills – West Virginia’s career leader in tackles for loss, and among the program’s best in sacks, Dante Stills is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals organization. Stills was selected in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft. His leadership and production undoubtedly leave some big shoes to fill for the players on the defensive line this year. He tallied 26 total tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks in his final year with the Mountaineers.
  • Jordan Jefferson – After a breakout junior season with the Mountaineers, Jefferson entered the transfer portal and is now at LSU. Jefferson finished eighth on the team with 31 tackles, led West Virginia with 9.5 tackles for loss, and batted down five pass attempts at the line of scrimmage.
  • Taijh Alston – The redshirt senior saw his production dip by roughly half last season compared to what he did in 2021. Alston finished with just 18 tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks, though he did force a pair of fumbles. Alston exited the program this offseason as a graduate transfer and is currently on Colorado’s roster.

Check out some of our previous roster reviews:

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