Hometown products are naturally intriguing. If a player who grew up down the road can make an immediate impact on their college team, it’s a reason for fans who can relate to that path to celebrate.
Cincinnati redshirt freshman defensive lineman Dontay Corleone made his first college start on Saturday when the Bearcats hosted Navy. The Bearcats won the game 20-10 and extended their home winning streak to 31 consecutive games. Despite Navy winning the time of possession battle, as they’re known to do with the triple-option offense, the UC defense were able to limit the Midshipmen’s scoring opportunities by forcing three punts and two missed field goals.
“We got some red zone stops tonight, defensively that were really big for us,” head coach Luke Fickell said postgame.
“I always say that when you go into play Navy, especially when you prepare for it, it makes you go back to the basics,” Fickell continued. “Not saying we’re going to try and schedule them as we switch leagues and things like that with the triple option. I do and will miss some of those things that say hey, what we’re going to do in spring ball, we’re spending a day on triple option. Why? Because it gets you the fundamentals of what you do and how you have to be physical. In fall camp, every third night doing the trip option because it’s so critical. Is it triple option? Yes, but is it really just a focus on the little things, the fundamentals of not getting bored doing those things.”
Corleone was also prepared for the triple option in another way. Corleone prepped at Cincinnati’s Colerain High School, who have famously (at least, to a local extent) expertly run a triple option offense for years. Corleone was ranked among the Top-100 defensive tackles in the class of 2020 and among the Top-60 players in Ohio
Corleone finished this game with a career-high 11 tackles, second on the team to Ivan Pace Jr. Corleone vividly remembers constantly practicing against an offensive system that very closely resembles Ken Niumatalolo’s.
“It’s awesome,” Corleone told media after the win. “I have a big advantage over it because I went against it my whole high school career, so it was a big week for me.”
While this performance was noticeably strong for a first start and the aforementioned history with the opposing offense adds another interesting wrinkle, this isn’t the first time that Corleone has proved his worth for the Bearcats. He’s been a steady contributor off of the bench all year, now with 39 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. The Athletic named Corleone a midseason All-American for his efforts. He was also an honorable mention on PFF’s Midseason All-America team. Corleone was also PFF’s highest-graded defensive player in the FBS entering the weekend with a grade of 92.3.
Corleone plays alongside junior Jowon Briggs in the interior defensive line. Briggs, a transfer from Virginia, is a force in his own right, playing in every game last year in UC’s march to the College Football Playoff. A fourth-year junior, there’s a decent possibility that Briggs seeks a professional opportunity after this season.
If that’s the case, Corleone seems to be well equipped for a starring role in the Bearcats defense as they jump to the Big 12. When and if that happens, Colerain Cardinals and Bearcats fans alike will have more reason to toast the 6’2”, 320-pound talent in Corleone.
“It’s awesome. I love playing with [Jowon] Briggs,” Corleone added at his media availability Saturday. “It was one of the best games I’ve ever played, and it was because of [Jowon] Briggs. It relieved all the double teams from me.”