Ballhawking Texans continue to horrify opposing quarterbacks

CALEB MCCAIG cmccaig@empiretribune.com

The Tarleton Texans currently sit at 5-4 on the season and 5-2 in Lone Star Conference play and a big part of that has been the success of the defense, especially the unit’s ability to create turnovers.

Helping to lead the way for the improved Texan defense are the three conference and team leaders in interceptions, secondary players Treston Ridge, Dominique Martin and linebacker Cody Burtscher.

The three have combined for nine interceptions, three a piece, which have helped minimize the team’s struggles on offense.

“Coach (Marcus) Patton always preaches to make plays,” said senior defensive back Marcus Ridge. “He always tells us if you have a chance to make a play then go do it. It allows us to have a mindset and go and do something and possibly take a risk. It’s always in our heads to make a play every day.”

The mindset to take a risk on jumping a pattern or going for a big play is something that’s settled in over the course of the year. It wasn’t as evident in the team’s earlier games, but has since become a staple in the way they play.

“The thing was, is that early in the season we were getting the opportunity for the turnover but we weren’t making the play. A lot of that comes from being comfortable out there and sometimes we’d be uncertain on our assignment,” said linebacker Cody Burtscher. “Now that we’re comfortable we can just attack the football. Coach Patton is really big on if you go to make a play, and if you miss it he isn’t going to be too upset. He knows that we tried to make a play. We have to maintain a short memory. It’s about our confidence and knowing our teammates have our back if we don’t make the play to pick us up.”

One of the individuals who is perhaps the team’s biggest surprise is defensive back Dominique Martin.

Martin previously played wide receiver for the Texans and started last season alongside Bubba Tandy and the now graduated and former all-american Le’Nard Meyers.

“Coach Whitten presented the opportunity to change positions and took it because that’s where the team needed me. At first it was tough and I’d get done and frustrated, but my boys in the secondary would pick me back up,” Martin said. “I really had to change my mindset, it was an adjustment. I’m having fun back there and I’m getting better. With the help of my teammates and coaches, I think it’s been a good adjustment.”

The Texan defense thus far this season currently sits at No. 5 in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 25.5 points per game, and eighth in total defense allowing 449.1 yards per game.

While the yards per game isn’t where the team would like it, it’s a large improvement from last year’s unit which was ranked 168th, last in the nation.

“When we first started we always knew we had a target on our back. We had to exceed what we did last year,” said Martin. “We were last in the nation last year in defense, 168th in the country. We wanted to show people that we could be a dominate on defense at times in this conference. With our coaching philosophies and the drive to prove the doubters wrong along with a ton of work, we’ve improved a lot and we started believing and having confidence in one another.”

Through eight games, the trio are all tied at the top of the team and LSC in interceptions with three. While Martin and Ridge are likely candidates to be in that position, Burtscher, a linebacker, is someone that most, including his secondary teammates, wouldn’t have expected to haul in three interceptions.

“I let them know about it all the time. I’m giving them a hard time asking them what’s up? I’m a linebacker playing the run and I know it bugs them that I’m tied with them,” Burtscher said. “They’ve been playing great though and have made their fair share of big plays this season.”

With the season on the tail end, the ultimate goal for the defense is to continue its high level of play, but also instill a culture of defensive excellence.

“We’re trying to instill a mindset and insert a culture here,” said Dominique Martin. “We want the young guys to follow what we’re doing now. If we keep this up there’s not limit at how high we can go.”