Dec. 13, 2002
They have made 599 tackles in their 169 career games, stopped 126 ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage for 565 lost yards and accounted for 56.5 sacks. They've batted down 20 passes, recovered 10 fumbles and forced another 10. Now, they're among a group of seniors who have led Tulane to its first bowl game since 1998.
Roxie Shelvin, Floyd Dorsey, Marlon Tickles and Kenan Blackmon, Tulane's senior defensive line foursome, have been together, and been mainstays in the Green Wave line-up, for four years. Three of the four have started at least 30 games for Tulane. Blackmon and Dorsey rank 1-2 in career sacks all-time. This year alone, the four have combined for an amazing 57 tackles for loss.
On the field, they form the backbone of a unit that has developed into one of the most improved defenses in college football while also leading, with words and with their actions, the young defensive players. Off the field, they are as different -- in looks, personalities and outlooks - as they are singly committed to doing their best.
Shelvin is a soft-spoken, small-town Louisianan. You will be hard-pressed to find Atlanta area-native Tickles without a smile on his face. Dorsey, the end from Texas, exudes "cool." And Blackmon, the menacing career sack leader, has grown up more than anyone thought he could.
Defensive line coach Giff Smith -- who came to Tulane the same year as Tickles and Dorsey, one year after Blackmon and Shelvin arrived -- has never been in a Green Wave defensive line meeting without the four of them present.
"The four seniors I've got, it's been a long growing period for them and for me." Smith said. "But this is the most fun coaching a group of players that I've ever had. They have been tremendous leaders and examples to the young players. It will be a sad day for me and for Tulane when they leave, but that's why you're in this business, to see young men grow up, mature and graduate."
And all four are on track to graduate, with Shelvin and Blackmon set to earn their degrees in media arts in December and May, respectively, and Dorsey and Tickles on track for graduation from the A.B. Freeman School of Business in December 2003.
"All four will finish their degrees and graduate," Smith said. "They all handle their business on and off the field. There is healthy competition among them. They are great role models and they really believe in the family concept we have here."
As in most families, each of the four has a distinctive personality while bringing different strengths to the defensive line. Shelvin, a product of Franklin, La., who arrived at Tulane in time to redshirt the 1998 perfect season, may be most comparable to a "wise and quiet" older brother, always accomplishing his assignments, whether against the run or the pass. The 6-2, 285-pounder has posted a career-high 46 tackles in 2002 while his 13 tackles for loss and five quarterback sacks also rank as his best. An intelligent player, Shelvin is also the most consistent of the four.
"Roxie is plays the run and the pass well," Smith said. "He's the best of the four at doing both. You have complete confidence when he's in there that he's going to do his assignments."
Shelvin readily admits that his career has been helped by playing with his senior teammates.
"It's a comfort zone knowing that these guys are next to you," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything better than to be with these guys and to have the success we've had this year. What I'll remember most about my time at Tulane is the guys...the guys I went to war with and the sense of happiness knowing that we made it."
Blackmon, like Shelvin, a redshirt on the 1998 team, had a little of the rebel sibling in him when he arrived, but has now settled down and matured to become a team captain, as well as the Wave's all-time leader in both tackles for loss and sacks. His 17 TFL's this year are a career high.
"Everyone in the program should be proud of what Kenan has become," Smith said. "He struggled in school, and with some off the field things, but he straightened himself out. He is an example of what can happen when you don't give up on a young man, and he's what college athletics is all about."
Floyd Dorsey can be credited with starting the "Tyler Invasion." He was the first of Tulane's five players from Tyler, Texas, to join the Green Wave back in 1999. And despite battling injuries throughout his career, he will leave as one of Tulane's all-time best with 183 career tackles, 41 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks entering the bowl game. His five PBUs this year are a career high, and he earned first team All-Conference USA honors as a senior.
Smith describes Dorsey as "the Cool One."
"He is the most laid back, he dresses smooth," Smith said. "He's one of those guys who walks into a room, and even though he doesn't say anything, everyone knows that he's there. He's a gifted pass rusher. He has gotten healthy this year and has performed beyond everyone's dreams."
For his part, Dorsey will take from his years at Tulane, the memories of his teammates and a lot of lessons learned.
"What goes through my mind is how it went by so fast," he said. "I'm so happy I was able to make the most of my senior year and finish with a bowl game. I can feel it (when we're all in there together). It's like a zone. You know that they're going to be ready.
"I'll remember everyone at Tulane. I've enjoyed the camaraderie and my teammates, the friendships I've made, and it's helped me develop as a man."
And last, but certainly not least among the Wave's senior d-line quartet is Tickles. Marlon is easily recognizable around the Tulane football offices by the large and expressive smile that is constantly on his face. And his personality - he is "the comedian of the group" according to Smith, matches that smile, and seems to go with his last name, too.
"Marlon keeps everyone laughing," Smith said. "He's got a real natural smile and he's always got that smile on his face. I told him he's going to be governor of Georgia one day."
For his part, Tickles, who also holds the title of ping pong champion on the Tulane team after defeating athletic director Rick Dickson during Tropical Storm Isidore in the Reily Center, believes there is no reason NOT to smile.
"I'm a positive thinking person," Tickles said. "Even if bad things are happening, why be mad or sad when there's so much to be positive about. I get that from my mom. She tells me that my situation could be bad, but there are people in worse situations."
Tickles does his best to help people who are in worse situations, especially kids, as he is the first member of the Tulane team to sign up for any community service activities, even going back to visit his community's Boys & Girls Clubs, where he spent a lot of time growing up in Austell, Ga.
"I've been going to the Boys and Girls Clubs since I was young so I know what it meant to have someone come in and talk to you, especially someone older that you look up to," Tickles said. "I know that it means so much to do those things for kids, even if you reach one kid out of every 100. You don't want to be self-centered. You've got to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there for other people."
In addition to his pingpong skills, Tickles is the "best athlete of the bunch" says Smith, who played baseball, basketball, even handball on a Junior Olympic team, as well as bass in a high school band. Tickles, who recorded his second career interception (tops among the defensive linemen) earlier this year versus UL-Monroe, enjoyed the best year of his career as a senior, more than doubling his career tackles for loss total with eight in 2002.
"He has developed into a good player this year," Smith said. "I wish I had another year with him because he's getting better and better every game."
And perhaps that statement is true of the Tulane senior defensive line as a whole.
Each has his own story. Each posted a career year in 2002. Each brought special strengths to the defensive line unit, both as players and as people. Yet it is as a group in this, their senior seasons, that their accomplishments are most impressive. And it is that sense of group - of family -- that they say they will remember most about their years at Tulane.