Linebacker Nick Alfieri, right, returns as a senior caption for Georgetown a season after he ranked second in the Patriot League with 10.2 tackles per game. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Entering its fourth game last season, the Georgetown football team had been so besieged with injuries at linebacker that the coaching staff by necessity moved a freshman running back to the position. The Hoyas used 12 players in all at linebacker in 2013, and as instability plagued that unit, the losses piled up.

Among the more notable players to miss time were Dustin Wharton and Nick Alfieri. Wharton, then a senior, sat out two games but was named first-team all-Patriot League for a second straight season, extending the tradition of Georgetown defensive players to be so honored.

Alfieri, meanwhile, also missed two games but received second-team recognition. This year, the senior captain and his defensive mates are leading the charge as Georgetown (2-9 last year) seeks to reclaim its place among the best teams in the Patriot League. The Hoyas last kept that sort of company in 2011-12 when they advanced to the Patriot League championship game.

“There’s definitely a little element of” redemption, Alfieri said. “It was pretty horrible getting injured, pretty devastating, but it turned into a good thing actually. Now I cherish every game that I get to play. I don’t take it for granted now, so that taught me something. Every game is precious. That kind of gave me a whole new perspective and a hunger for this year.”

Alfieri also has elevated leadership responsibilities this season, and not just because he’s a preseason first-team selection or in line to become one of the top three tacklers in program history. Alfieri’s 216 tackles are 10th all-time at Georgetown, trailing Wharton by 59 for third place.

Much more significant is the No. 35 jersey Alfieri will be wearing in honor of former Hoyas captain Joe Eacobacci, who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Alfieri is the sixth linebacker and ninth defensive player to wear the jersey.

Following Eacobacci’s death, his brother Tom and then-defensive line coach Rob Sgarlata began the tradition of awarding No. 35 to the player that best represents Joe Eacobacci’s character and commitment to the football team. This season Sgarlata takes over as head coach following eight years as defensive coordinator.

“Anytime someone is awarded the 35 jersey for us here is a big deal,” Sgarlata said. “Also Nick’s played a bunch of different positions. He started playing linebacker but was in the secondary with me for a year, and we moved him to where he is now. That helps because he’s got an understanding of what we do on the back end as well as being up front now.”

It hasn’t been Alfieri’s contributions alone that have the Hoyas re-energized on defense, although he was second in the Patriot League last year in tackles per game (10.2). Senior Patrick Boyle, for instance, led the Hoyas with 98 tackles and was the only linebacker to play in every game last season.

Seniors Wardell Crutchfield and Ryan Rattay both endured injuries last year but are in the mix for regular playing time, and junior Matthew Satchell arrived in training camp in peak condition, according to defensive coordinator Luke Thompson, who is back with the Hoyas following two years on the Army staff.

Thompson coached linebackers and special teams from 2006 through ’11 and worked with Alfieri and many other defensive players when they were freshmen.

That group includes defensive tackle Jordan Richardson, who teammates have referenced repeatedly as one of the bedrocks of Georgetown’s aggressive front seven. The senior started every game last year and led the Hoyas with 12 tackles for loss while allowing linebackers clear passage at the line of scrimmage.

“It’s funny how things go full circle,” Thompson said. “Guys that played as freshmen when I was here the last time, it’s neat to see those guys grow up, kind of change their roles on the team and see them develop into the guys that they are now.”