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Sabb drawing rave reviews

Leads nation's 11th ranked defense

September 22, 2006 · MT Media Relations
J.K. Sabb may have a future in film. He already knows how to play to a crowd and give encore performances. As long as Sabb has an audience, he's all about putting on a show. Sabb and the Blue Raiders will play on the big stage in front of more than 80,000 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday.

"When the lights come on and there are fans in the stands, I like to perform for them," Sabb said. "Those fans pay to watch the games and I always want to play hard for them and give them a show."

His act has not become old where Middle Tennessee football fans are concerned. In fact, it has become a long-running hit, literally. Sabb, Middle Tennessee's 5-foot-11, 221-pound middle linebacker, was an immediate success after transferring from Georgia Military Junior College prior to the 2005 season.

Sabb proved to be a difference maker, leading the Blue Raiders with 71 tackles, 13 for loss, and he hauled in an interception. The gridiron is his cinema and peers are knowledgeable of the dynamic presentations he is delivering.

For example, Sabb has been named to the preliminary list of 65 candidates for this year's Butkus Award, which is annually presented to the nation's best college linebacker. He has been named Preseason First-Team All-Sun Belt by Sporting News, and Blue Ribbon College Yearbook, and Sabb also was named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt team by the league's head coaches and select media voters.

Needless to say, his play has drawn rave reviews.

"The big thing I'm most pleased with is his improvement from the spring until now," Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill said. "He made a commitment to change his body and get into good shape and he has become a better football player. He's improved a lot from the spring to this point. He brings quickness and speed to the defense. He's a person that likes football, likes practice, and he likes playing the game. He's a good football player; you wish this was his sophomore or freshman year."

After a smashing debut in 2005, Sabb has come charging out of the gates at the outset of 2006. The Augusta, Ga., native helped key a Middle Tennessee defense that limited Florida International to just one score in a 7-6 Blue Raider win in the season opener and he ignited the group in a shutout win against rival Tennessee Tech. Sabb leads the No. 11-rated defense in the nation with 19 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.

The unit will receive a stern test when it faces No. 16 Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Peterson Saturday in Norman, Okla.

"Our defense has played well but we can be better," Sabb said. "We have to improve in some areas and eliminate some mistakes but we are a close group and we expect to make plays. I expect this to be a good defense. That's why I came to Middle Tennessee. I wanted to make an impact."

Linebackers coach Art Kaufman, who has mentored Sabb each of the last two seasons, said the gifted athlete is capable of not only being a solid defender, but also making others around him better.

"If there's a chance for him to be set up to make that play, J.K. will make the play," Kaufman said. "If people don't worry about him he can do some things and if teams are worried about him then someone else is freed up to make plays so he is a guy who can help you in a lot of different ways.

"We expect a lot of production out of him. He should be one of our most productive players and he expects that of himself. J.K. is one of the more athletic guys on the team and he has really good instincts, he understands the game, and he plays with a lot of savvy."

In 2005, Sabb was part of a Middle Tennessee defense ranked 17th nationally in scoring defense, and 28th nationally in total defense. It was the highest national ranking in either category since Middle Tennessee became a Division I-A member in 1999.

"And I think we can be even better in 2006," Sabb said. "We have the potential to be a very good defense and as we continue to grow and develop within this new defensive scheme, we are only going to get better as a unit. That gets me excited."

And when Sabb gets keyed up, fans have a tendency to get excited because they know it's showtime.

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