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Young defenders answer call in Bears' time of need

Nov. 18, 2010

Daniel Cernero | Lariat Photo Editor
No. 33 linebacker Earl Patin and No. 31 linebacker Chris McAllister bring down Texas Tech No. 24 running back Eric Stephens Oct. 9 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Bears lost, 45-38.

By Tyler Alley

With injuries to multiple players on defense this season, redshirt freshman linebacker Chris McAllister and true freshman cornerback Tyler Stephenson are two of several young players asked to step up and play bigger roles.

"Those guys certainly come to mind," head coach Art Briles said. "It's imperative that those guys step in and contribute, and that's what they've been able to do. We got a lot of other young guys that are playing that have played throughout the course of the season, but those guys have come on here lately and played a bunch."

Both players were asked to start the Texas A&M game due to key injuries in the defensive backfield. Senior linebacker Chris Francis, Baylor's second-leading tackler on the season, and junior linebacker Elliot Coffey, the fifth-leading tackler on the season, were both out, along with sophomore cornerback Chance Casey.

Senior safety and Baylor's leading tackler Byron Landor had some encouragement for McAllister.

"I was messing with Chris before the game because I could tell he was a little jittery," Landor said. "I just kind of messed with him and said, 'Man, if you're scared I'll give you a hug when we run out on the field.' He kind of laughed it off and went out and played a good game."

McAllister did not disappoint, leading the team in tackles at nine in the loss to the Aggies, including one and a half tackles for loss. The San Antonio native made his first start for the Bears Saturday night.

"I was real nervous leading up to the game," McAllister said. "The whole day I was kind of nervous because Chris Francis is such a good player and I had to fill in for him for this game and hopefully not have a dropoff. Once I got in and got the first hit then I was good. It was just another game."

Stephenson contributed as well, getting seven tackles and a pass breakup. This was the second start for the Lancaster native, who also got the nod against Oklahoma State.

Stephenson has also played corner throughout the season in formations with more defensive backs than the normal 4-3 set.

"At first I was real nervous because it was a big adjustment," Stephenson said. "But then after the first few games, that's when I started to get into myself and everything was kind of normal."

Both McAllister and Stephenson were top 100 recruits coming out of high school and both made their respective all-area teams. Both players also admit having to make adjustments when they arrived on the Big 12 stage.

Each player says they have gained 20 pounds on the year, and McAllister in particular earned some praise from coach Briles.

"He had a really good offseason last spring and the summer," Briles said. "He's very dependable. That used to be one of my sayings is the important ability is dependability, and he has that. Athletically [he's] just a big gifted guy who can run, move and think."

On the year, McAllister has 37 tackles, three and half resulting in a loss, and one sack. Stephenson has 17 tackles on the year along with two breakups and two pass deflections.

"They're talented," Landor said. "I think [Baylor has] done a good job recruiting over the last couple years. I think that we've done a good job as seniors to kind of lead and open the door for those guys to start believing in themselves. I think the future is bright."

Landor also admitted that injuries happen in football, and while "you hope you're not throwing a freshman in the fire, sometimes it happens like that."