Reinhardt’s play at the line of scrimmage this season did not go unnoticed, as a pair of linemen earned first-team all-American honors from the Associated Press.
Sophomore defensive end J.T. Graydon made the team for the first time, while junior Tre Coney made his second appearance on the all-American team.
"I made the team last year too, so it was a goal of mine to make it again," Coney said. "It's an honor. It goes to show all the hard work you put in on a daily basis is being noticed."
Graydon’s rise to national prominence was less expected.
A third-stringer a season ago, Graydon only played about 10-15 snaps per game at defensive end, but he made his snaps count this year as he moved into the starting lineup.
"I knew once I got the opportunity, I would give it all I got,” he said. “I was going to play hard and not let my teammates down."
Coney helped anchor a defensive line that once again led the NAIA in rushing yards per game at 339.2 yards per game.
The Eagles had to maintain that status with a new group of players, though, and Coney used his experience to help get the new starters up to that standard.
“I was the older guy this year,” Coney said. “Last year, I was the younger guy. It was different. I had to find a way to lead. I had to talk to those guys and get everything going together."
Reinhardt did not throw much this season, but they did well to keep the quarterback upright, ranking 15th nationally with just 1.5 sacks allowed per game.
For Coney, the pleasure came from run blocking in Reinhardt’s Wing-T offense, though.
"For a lineman, it's a great system,” he said. “You get to do all the run blocking and misdirection lots. it's a lot of fun for the big guys."
Graydon’s honor came just weeks after he was named the Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite being a smaller defensive end at 6-foot, 215 pounds, he finished the season with 39 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, including one for a score.
"I'm undersized,” he said. “Every lineman I play is twice my side. have speed, so that's what i use. I forget about myself and think about the team. Coaches tell me every day I'm here to get sacks, so that's the only thing really in my head."
The good news for Reinhardt is both are set to return for next season.
Both say repeating their status as all-Americans is one of their top goals heading into the season, and as long as they continue to face off in practice, both could come back even better next year.
"He's very good,” Graydon said of practicing against Coney. “He's the best lineman I've ever gone against. Going against him prepares me for anybody I see in the games. If I can beat him, I know I can beat anybody i go against."