Colby’s Marcus Bullard, bottom left, and Will Terzi, top, combine for a tackle against Bates last season in Waterville. Submitted photo by Calvin Wetmore/Colby College

WATERVILLE — Colby College linebackers Marcus Bullard and Will Terzi work well together. Side-by-side in the middle of the Mules defense, they are partners. They don’t finish each other’s sentences, but Bullard and Terzi may finish each other’s tackles.

“It was great from the beginning. Terz is a hard worker. I’m a hard worker. We both love football,” Bullard, a junior, said.

Last season, both Bullard and Terzi, now a sophomore, made their debuts for the Mules, and finished one-two on the team in tackles. With that season of experience, Colby head coach Jack Cosgrove is eager to see how the duo fit into what he hopes is a much-improved defense.

“We think they’re both substantially improved with the experience they got last year. We think it’s a strong position for us now,” Cosgrove said.

Colby opens the season Saturday afternoon at Wesleyan. Improvement by not just Bullard and Terzi, but the entire defense, will be crucial as the Mules hope to improve on last season’s 3-6 record. Colby was eighth in the 10-team New England Small College Athletic Conference in yards per game allowed in 2018, with 391.1. The Mules were last against the run in the NESCAC, allowing an average of 234.7 yards per game on the ground. The communication between Bullard at rover and Terzi at mike (middle) linebacker will be crucial, Cosgrove said.

“I think that’s one of the major strengths they have, because they played together for a full year, for the most part. They’ve been side-by-side all preseason. They go together as a tandem, and that will go a long ways toward making us a better defense,” Cosgrove said.

Despite missing a pair of games with an injury, the 6-foot, 218-pound Bullard led the Mules with 55 tackles last season, and was fifth in the NESCAC in tackles per game (7.9). As a freshman last season, the 6-foot, 205-pound Terzi made 46 stops, including 6.5 for a loss. Terri’s welcome-to-college football moment came on the first play from scrimmage last season. The Bantams lined up with an empty backfield, leaving Terzi in coverage on running back Max Chipouras, who went on to lead the league in all-purpose yards and earn NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

“I was on him. They didn’t throw it to him,” Terzi said of the play.

Bullard’s welcome-to-college football moment was delayed a season when he suffered a broken collarbone in a 7 on 7 drill prior to his freshman season in 2017. When he finally got on the field after missing that entire first season, Bullard was eager to make an impression. It came on the opening kickoff of that game against Trinity in last season’s opener. Bullard sprinted downfield with the intention of hitting somebody as hard as he could.

“We both went down, and that was it,” Bullard said. “I was pretty comfortable because towards the end of freshman year, I got some reps. I didn’t really get contact reps, but I got some reps.”

An ankle injury to senior linebacker Sebastien Philemon early in the 2018 preseason gave both Terzi and Bullard the chance to get in the lineup and make an impact.

“You hope you’ve done well in recruiting, and you hope with the reps they get in practice they grow and develop. We kept things pretty basic and simple so they could play rather than overthink things,” Cosgrove said.

“I expected to fight for special teams time, but I was excited when I got the chance (to play). I was thrilled with the opportunity,” Terzi said.

Cosgrove said Terzi is a traditional run-stopping middle linebacker. As he gained confidence last season, Terzi’s production increased. After making 20 tackles in his first five games combined, Terzi made 26 over the final four, including 14 solo.

“He’s the guy in the middle we want to play in the gaps,” Cosgrove said.

“It progressively built as the season went on. I think it was fairly quickly. I think the coaches were rally good at getting all the schemes down and making sure we knew all our assignments and making sure we had really good attention to detail. They gave us all the tools we needed to be confident and play fast,” Terzi said.

Bullard missed midseason games against Wesleyan and Amherst, but returned and played well, making 32 tackles over the final four games of the season, helping the Mules go 3-1 over the final month to finish the season well and win the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin series for the first time since 2005.

“He’s really a complete linebacker,” Cosgrove said of Bullard. “He’s a guy we can keep in on all four downs. If it’s nickel or short yardage, we can keep him in there. He’s a run stopper, a pass defender. He’s very athletic for a linebacker.”

With a balanced Wesleyan offense (the Cardinals averaged 169 yards per game through the air and 143 yards per game on the ground last season), Bullard and Terzi know they’ll have to play well. As it was last season, Terzi knows they have to keep it simple.

“Do our jobs, play fast, play aggressive. Fly to the football,” Terzi said. “Know what we have to do and execute.”

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