Bowdoin senior linebacker Joey Cleary capped off a fantastic career this fall, earning titles of NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year—the first Polar Bear to do so since the conference was formed in 2000—and First Team All-NESCAC. Cleary was also named to the 2013 New England Football Writers Division II/III All-New England team.

Cleary led the league with 99 tackles, the highest number since 2009. He also amassed two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 8.5 tackles for losses.

After three years as a starter, Cleary was named a captain this year, a position of responsibility initially foreign to him.

“I’ve always been a looser, joking around kind of guy, so that’s a different role I had to take on this year,” he said.

“He’s been a leader since he came here,” offensive lineman and fellow captain Bobby Driscoll ’14 said. “He’s just one of those natural leaders—when he enters the room, people look up to him.”

Cleary became a leader on and off the field for the Polar Bears, taking an even bigger leadership role when linebacker Griffin Cardew ’14 sustained a season-ending knee injury. Cleary pointed to the collective effort of the defense after Cardew’s injury as the reason behind the maintained success.

“As a defense and as a team we had to respond,” he said. “I was taking on a few more blocks and it was tougher, but we had guys step up behind him and it all worked out."

“Joey was able to make it seem like not much changed,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll also pointed to Cleary’s leadership both in games and in practice as one of his defining characteristics.

“You know with Joey on the field you can always trust the defense,” he said. “He always keeps those guys in line. It’s fun going up against him in practice. It causes a lot of competition. It makes a bunch of guys better on the offensive side of the ball.”

Cleary said that the fact that the coaches vote for the Player of the Year awards makes receiving them all the more special.

“The coaches vote for it—those are the guys that watch and study the film—you hope they recognize you as a good player,” Cleary said. “It really is a team award. It’s the guys in front of me letting me make tackles, and it’s everyone else in the field covering their guys.”

Cleary has accumulated 255 career tackles, six interceptions, and five and a half sacks. His 255 career tackles are the second highest in Bowdoin history. He also has the second longest interception return for his 99-yard pick-six against Tufts in 2011.

Without Cleary, the Polar Bear defense will look much different next year, though he believes the program is in good shape.

“We leave the program in a good position,” he said. “The younger guys are going to be a really good group. The program is definitely in a better place, and I think the senior class did a really good job through their four years.”