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2016 Season Defensive MVP: The Case for Jason Cabinda

Brandon Bell isn’t the only New Jersey linebacker who warrants consideration for Penn State’s defensive player of the year.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

No. 11 (and the last player to wear the famed jersey for the Nittany Lions) is not the only famous Penn State jersey number. The number 40 has also been particularly notable for Penn State linebackers in the recent past, from the all-time leader in tackles Dan Connor, to former walk-on turned solid contributor Glenn Carson. The player to wear the blue and white 40 for the last three years is junior linebacker Jason Cabinda. Cabinda may have played a shortened season, but his impact on Penn State’s defense cannot be denied.

Cabinda committed to Penn State in 2013 (after previously being committed to Syracuse), and signed with the Nittany Lions in February 2014. The three-star recruit played high school football in Flemington, NJ, and was recruited by former linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. In 2013, our own Tim Aydin praised his athleticism, something many fans have been fortunate to witness during his career.

During his freshman season, Cabinda registered 17 tackles, including eight in his debut against Northwestern, and was named honorable mention Big Ten All-Freshman by He appeared in nine games over the course of the season, and made his first career start against Illinois.

As a sophomore, Cabinda asserted himself as a leader of the defense. He led the team with 100 tackles, including 14 and two sacks against Army, and 13 in the regular-season finale against Michigan State. For his work, he was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. Cabinda’s versatility also shown through, as he started at two different linebacker spots. He also began being a vocal leader off the field for the Nittany Lions, and has continued to do so this season.

This season, Cabinda lodged 11 tackles in the opener against Kent State, before missing the next five games with an arm injury. His absence was certainly felt on an already-depleted linebacking corps, as Penn State went 3-2 without the junior. When he returned to the lineup against Ohio State, Cabinda had 12 tackles and a sack. The coaching staff had wanted to limit both him and Bell to 25-30 plays, but both linebackers played far more than that against the Buckeyes. Despite missing five games, Cabinda still finished with 81 tackles and a sack, making several highlight plays this season. Against Iowa, he did his best Paul Posluszny against Minnesota impression.

Also, Cabinda’s game face is pretty intense. Just check out what Alex Hornibrook, Corey Clement, and the rest of Wisconsin’s offense saw when the Badgers were driving to tie the Big Ten Championship Game.

Jason Cabinda might not have put up better statistics than his sophomore season, but given the injuries in the linebacker unit, his importance to the Penn State defense cannot be overstated.