By any measure, Dustin Wharton’s sophomore season with the Georgetown football team in 2011 was a resounding success. The former safety seamlessly moved to linebacker, flourished with 104 tackles, the third-most in the Patriot League, and was voted all-conference.
One season later, in 2012, Coach Kevin Kelly and defensive coordinator Rob Sgarlata figured they could extract even more from Wharton given his rare combination of strength and speed at the FCS level. Not only had he set teen division world records in several power-lifting events before his sophomore season, but Wharton also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
So in last season’s opener, coaches expanded Wharton’s role to include playing defensive end in nickel packages. The thinking was Wharton (6 feet, 213 pounds) would be too quick for tackles to handle one-on-one and strong enough to shed blocks while pursuing the quarterback.
He wound up with three tackles for loss and 11 / 2 sacks, both personal bests, in registering eight overall tackles during a 35-14 road victory over Davidson.
“It was the first time we had him on the defensive front, and we let him just put his hand down and pass rush,” Sgarlata said during training camp this preseason. “I hate to use the term, but sometimes he looked like a cartoon character because he’s so fast in comparison. He just had a tremendous game.”
Wharton went on to record a career-high 104 tackles and was named first-team all-Patriot League. No surprise Wharton has been selected Patriot League preseason defensive player of the year as he attempts to become the only player in Georgetown history to amass three seasons with 100 tackles.
Wharton also stands to become the third straight member of the Hoyas to win the league defensive player of the year. Linebacker Robert McCabe won the award last season as a senior, and defensive end Andrew Schaetzke won it in 2011.
“I’ve played with those guys, and they’re some very talented players,” Wharton said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, and I can take that into my game. But I’m not trying to be someone that I’m not. I’m just playing my game. I’m excited to take it on. It’s really an honor and a privilege.”
Wharton’s dedication in the weight room has become the stuff of legend at Georgetown, where he has worked tirelessly with strength and conditioning coach Carl Johnson. Months of training under Johnson’s supervision conditioned Wharton to bench press 440.9 pounds and lift 1,573 pounds combined among the bench, squats and deadlift at the Powerlifting Nationals in Springfield, Ohio, two years ago.
At that same meet, Wharton’s father, Tim, won the bench press title in the masters division with a weight of more than 507 pounds. Tim Wharton long has been an avid weight lifter, and he had Dustin and his older brother, Tyler, working with weights at an early age.
“I’m a little bit undersized guy,” Dustin Wharton said. Weight lifting “helps me stay healthy and stay with it, and it really allows me to compete with the bigger guys despite my size.”
Wharton was part of a defense that finished second last year in the Patriot League in fewest points allowed (23.7) and ranked third in total yards allowed (360.4). The Hoyas had the No. 2 rushing defense in the league, allowed a league-low 15 rushing touchdowns and were first in third-down efficiency percentage (32.1).
This year the defense is undergoing some notable modifications, including updated duties for starter Nick Alfieri. The junior was third on the Hoyas with 91 tackles as a safety but is making the switch to inside linebacker, where Georgetown is set to have two new starters.
The Hoyas also graduated first-team all-Patriot cornerback Jeremy Moore, who led the team and was second in the league with five interceptions. Moore also ranked fifth in kickoff return average.
“I’m very confident in our football team,” Kelly said. “We’re not worried about the Patriot League [where the Hoyas are picked to finish sixth this season]. Our deal is win the day. It’s the journey, not the destination.”