When Sam Acho graduated from McCombs School of Business Honors Program in 2010, he had a long list of accolades on his résumé.
But Acho, now a pass rusher for the Chicago Bears, had more than GPA points and internship experience.
“Sam defines champion in every way — on the field and off the field,” former Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “He works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around.”
As a student on the 40 Acres, Acho was charged with balancing the work necessary to be a starting defensive end for the Longhorn football team while undertaking an honors course load. But he met the challenge head on.
Acho won the William V. Cambell Trophy, known as the “academic Heisman,” and played well enough for the Arizona Cardinals to take him with a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Acho, who is quick to share the credit, said he recognized that he could not have succeeded at Texas without the help of others.
“The first thing I say is I had some good mentors,” Acho said. “I remember there was a professor in the business school named Herb Miller — he taught marketing. We would meet up once every couple weeks … and try and make sure that it was all being balanced.”
In addition to dishing out life advice, Miller guided Acho in an independent study that culminated in a 35–40-page research paper on how to build and maintain your brand as an athlete. Miller said Acho has all the right attributes to be a good leader.
“I think he’d be a great chief executive for a company,” Miller said. “He will be and is already a great ambassador for the University of Texas and the McCombs School of Business.”
Most NFL players in Acho’s position might relish the chance to be done with school and focus on football — but not Acho. After one offseason of relaxing, he enrolled in the Arizona-based Thunderbird School of Global Management, which has been a constant fixture in the top three of the U.S. News and World Report international business program rankings.
Acho is on track to graduate with an MBA in August, but his first offseason as a free agent complicated the path to graduation. Acho was put in the uncertainty of where he would play next, which led to significant emotional strain on him.
“One recommendation I have to anybody who wants to really test the limits emotionally, physically, whatever … test free agency,” Acho said. “You really find out a lot about yourself.”
Acho was relieved when Bears coach John Fox called with a contract offer earlier this month, but the move north and the beginning of offseason workouts complicated his plan to take classes in Arizona.
“There’s a couple weeks overlap,” Acho said. “What I decided to do to counter that is a lot of the assignments we had to do — I did a lot of those early.”
The balancing act that began at Texas will not end when Acho receives his degree. The former Longhorn still participates in his family’s annual summer medical mission trip to Nigeria and is currently in the process of raising $2 million for the construction of a hospital there.
There is also a new challenge waiting for Acho at home.
“I’ve been married for about a year; I have a four-month-old son, so I think this offseason might be just spending time with them,” Acho said.
Freshman guard Brooke McCarty drives past the Baylor defense. McCarty had her game-tying shot blocked at the end.
With two minutes remaining in the game, and down by 5 points, Texas found itself in a position to end its losing skid. But Baylor proved to be too much once again — and the Longhorns fell to the Bears for the second time this season, 70-68.
Three pointers from freshman guard Brooke McCarty and junior guard Brady Sanders cut the deficit to 4 points in the waning minutes for Texas. After a missed Baylor field goal, sophomore guard Brianna Taylor’s mid-ranged jumper made it a 2-point game, and, with less than a minute remaining, Texas had the opportunity to tie, or even win. But Baylor forward Nina Davis blocked McCarty’s floater, and it was all over.
“It was a play that I felt like we were comfortable running,” head coach Karen Aston said. “I did think we could get to the next portion of the play, which would have been an odd ball with [sophomore center Kelsey Lang] coming out the setting one with [freshman guard Ariel Atkins], which would have gotten them in a two-man game.”
Sanders said she felt the failure of the last play.
“I missed Ariel coming off the screen, and I should have tried to definitely get it to her,” Sanders said. “But I shouldn’t have had that mistake.”
Sunday’s match is the 10th straight time the Bears defeated the Longhorns, who now sit at 4–7 in the Big 12. Baylor found holes in Texas 2–3 defense in both halves finding quality looks for 3-point shots and penetrating the lane. Aston said despite the team’s shortcomings, she felt encouraged by their performance.
“Obviously there are no moral victories in this game at all, but I’m pleased with the way we played the game today,” Aston said.” I think if we can build on this then we can get back on track.”
Lang picked up a double-double, scoring 20 points with 11 boards. Sanders led the team with six assists, joining double-digits club with 14 points, and Taylor ended with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Junior guard Empress Davenport returned to action and played 22 minutes with 2 points, but ultimately fouled out. She had missed the last two games after injuring her right shoulder.
Despite the loss, Aston said she felt this was the first game where the team was ready to move forward from the adversity it has faced this season. Lang also said she thinks the team is starting to understand how to move forward without senior forward Nneka Enemkpali.
“No one person is going to fill what she was, because she was an amazing player,” Lang said. “But we are all starting to realize we need to take on a little part of her role. Hopefully that will help fill the void.”
Texas returns to action Wednesday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, against Oklahoma State.
Jonathan Holmes struggles to pass the ball out of a double team. With the loss, Texas’ Big 12 title hopes are in jeopardy.
No. 19 Texas missed its first 12 shots. No. 20 Baylor made its first eight. From there, the Longhorns never made enough of a run to get back into the game.
The same issues that plagued Texas in its previous two games reared their ugly heads again on Saturday, as the Longhorns fell to the Bears in Waco, 83-60. The Texas big men struggled to make their presence felt against Baylor’s smaller frontcourt, while the defense did little to slow Baylor’s potent three-point barrage.
And now, with three straight losses, the Longhorns are wondering how to fix their bevy of issues.
“We’re just trying to figure out what we need to do to win games again,” senior forward Johnathan Holmes said.
Texas’ puzzling inability to exploit its size down low continued against the Bears. Freshman forward Myles Turner scored a career-low 2 points. Juniors Conner Lammert and Prince Ibeh combined for 0. And junior center Cam Ridley missed a series of easy lay-ups at the beginning the game that helped allow Baylor’s early lead to balloon.
The Longhorns attempted 26 three-pointers, making just five. Holmes was 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. Junior guard Javan Felix was 2-of-6. Turner, Lammert and sophomore guard Kendal Yancy went a combined 0-for-6.
But the Longhorns’ biggest problems were on defense. It didn’t even take four minutes for them to fall behind 12-0, and they trailed 21-9 by the time Baylor finally missed a shot at the 11:59 mark in the first half.
The Bears never let up. They shot over 48 percent from the field for the game, going 12-of-22 on three-point attempts.
“We just haven’t been good on defense,” Holmes said. “It doesn’t help when you’re not making shots on offense. It’s not good on both ends.
“It starts on defense,” Holmes added. “If you’re not making shots, the urgency on defense should be even higher. It starts on defense and we have to go from there.”
The loss dropped Texas to 3-5 in conference play, four games behind first-place Kansas. Chances at a Big 12 title appear increasingly unlikely with each loss, and while head coach Rick Barnes declined to say whether he believes his team has dug a hole for itself, he said he knows they need to turn things around.
“Where we are, we’ve got to turn it around,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “We got to win games. It’s simple. We’re not what we want to be. We’re not where we need to be. There’s a lot of basketball left. I think every night is going to be a challenge.”
Saturday’s 23-point loss was the worst of the season for the Longhorns, who have dropped four of their last six games after starting the season 10-1. Despite these struggles, Felix insisted after the game that nobody in the Texas locker room is giving up.
“We’re very frustrated,” Felix said. “No one likes losing. We’re down, but we’re not divided. We’re just going to stick together, and we’re going to get through this.”
I can’t begin to start listing the things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for my family, my incredible fiancée, my amazing friends, and the many dogs in my life. And you know what? I’m thankful for football on Thanksgiving. It’s fun watching the men in my family hover from their plates to the TV trying to catch a glimpse of the game. On a day we spend so much time with family, we also spend time with our pals Calvin Johnson, Tyron Smith, and Matt Forte.
This particular turkey day gives us three in-division matchups with huge implications in the standings. The Bears travel to the Motor City for a matchup with Matthew Stafford and the Lions. Two 8-3 teams in the Eagles and Cowboys square off with a division lead in their sights. And finally in the nightcap, the defending NFC champion Seahawks take a trip South to San Fran to meet up with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers.
Let’s take a minute to break each down (obviously with an eye towards fantasy) and get a better taste of what’s to come this Thursday.
***At the bottom of the article, I’ve listed some fantasy D’s to keep an eye on when looking towards playoff matchups.***
Email me at FantasyDecisions@gmail.com with any questions you may have or any lineup help you need. I’m the expert tool at your fingertips
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
For the visiting Bears, this matchup is very fantasy unfriendly and reality-unfriendly as well. The Lions may be coming off a beating at the hands of one Tom Brady, but don’t think for a moment that they’re going to lie down for this game. They know it’s going to take their best effort to beat the Bears and keep pace with the in-division rival Packers. The Lions rank as the 3rd, 4th, and 9th toughest defense, respectively, against QBs, WRs, and RBs. With such a tough matchup, I’m not a fan of Jay Cuter this week. While he has great receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Cutler has struggled recently (failed to reach 10 fantasy points in three of the last five weeks). Temper expectations for your Bears pass catching options. As for Forte though, he’s an automatic play and you hope he can continue his momentum from last week’s two-touchdown performance. If Chicago is going to have a chance, it’s key for them to get the ground game going early.
As for the Lions, this game sets up picture-perfect for Stafford and his receivers. Megatron (Calvin Johnson) could easily go off for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns on this weak secondary that’s been getting lit up week after week. I could see the Lions jumping out to an early lead on the arm of the Georgia product. Therefore, I really like the potential of Joique Bell this week. I think they’re going to try to control the clock and force Cutler to sling it around on the other side of the ball. If Reggie Bush is announced as being inactive, Joique moves to top 15 RB status for me. And for one last note on the Lions: I really like Matt Prater. You won’t catch me talking about kickers too frequently but this matchup is the best you can hope for at the position. The Bears have allowed the most points to kickers on the year and Prater has a booming leg. And a booming leg inside Detroit’s cozy dome spells fantasy success.
Prediction: Lions 27 – Bears 17
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
For the Eagles, this game is a chance for them to stake their claim as the best team in the division and a legitimate super bowl contender. Their warp-speed offense under Chip Kelly will look to showoff on the national stage. A couple guys to note in this fast-paced frenzy are Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, though, I’m afraid Maclin is really going to struggle this week. For as much as they were criticized for their awful defense last year, the Cowboys have patched together a very formidable group. Before getting torched by Odell Beckham Jr. Sunday night, the Cowboys secondary had only allowed three touchdowns to receivers in the past seven weeks. Since Mark Sanchez has taken the reins, Maclin has taken a hit, having only accumulated 23 points over the past three weeks combined. However, Eagles fans, there is hope. And that hope is in the form of one shift RB named LeSean McCoy. After seemingly being primed for a big game all year long, McCoy finally put the yards and touchdowns together last week against the Titans, going for 130 yards and a touchdown on only 21 attempts. And I think “Shady” continues his success in Big D. The Boys have given up five rushing TDs over the past four weeks and RBs are averaging better than four yards a carry as well. This screams big game for one LeSean McCoy.
As for “America’s Team”, this game against the Eagles presents one huge, huge mismatch and I fully expect the Cowboys to exploit it. Over the past five weeks, the Eagles have given up nine touchdowns to WRs. Dez must be getting his “Throw up the X” celebration ready. I think he might absolutely go off. I’m not doing rankings this week, but he would probably be my top option at the position. The Eagles are not only the worst in the league against receivers, but they’re the second worst against QBs as well. The Romo-to-Dez connection is going to be visited frequently Thursday and I expect a smashing success. But, no Cowboys preview is complete without mentioning the league’s leading rusher, Mr. DeMarco Murray. The Eagles are giving up an average of 18 points to RBs over the past four weeks, and I think Murray makes that number even bigger. Do me a favor, please start your Dallas studs, not that you weren’t already. Dez and DeMarco are as automatic as can be, and I think Romo should be an absolute start unless you have Luck, Manning, Rodgers, or Brady.
Prediction: Cowboys 31 – Eagles 20
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
For the Seahawks, this looks like a bad, bad matchup on almost every level. Russell Wilson is a “sit” for me this week going up against the number one fantasy passing defense. I could be wrong, but I just have a feeling Russell really struggles. And to make matters worse, Marshawn Lynch has some tough sledding as well. The 49ers have been the fifth toughest run defense on the year and will look to slow down “Beast Mode”. Having given up only one touchdown in the past 4 weeks, San Francisco has been stout when it matters. However, Marshawn remains a must start, and there is some light in the situation. Four of the last seven RBs to face the 49ers have had at least 100 yards rushing. While I think Lynch’s ceiling may be somewhat limited this week, I think he gets enough yards to make you comfortable starting him.
Much the same for the team by the bay, this looks like a defensive struggle in the making. Colin Kaepernick is going up against the second toughest team against the pass, and his receivers are going up against the top rated secondary in football. With only one passing touchdown allowed in their last three games, this is the week to bench your 49er passing options. And the news doesn’t get much better for the backfield. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde will have a tough time finding many holes against a defensive front that has allowed a 100 yard rusher only twice through week 12. Both backs are touchdown-dependent anyways so play at your own risk.
WACO — For the third time in the last four matches, the No. 3 Longhorns found themselves in trouble after the first set.
The upset-minded Baylor Bears (14-15, 4-10) held the Longhorns to a .136 hitting percentage while drilling 16 kills in the process.
But, as they had at Oklahoma and at home against Kansas State, Texas took the momentum back with a big second set and held off the Bears in a 3-1 win at the Ferrell Center on Wednesday night.
“We came out sluggish,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “I thought we did a good job blocking and giving ourselves a chance and had some players really step up tonight.”
The Longhorns (21-1, 13-1 Big 12) came out flat in the first set. After tying the match at 9, Texas allowed Baylor to take control of the match with back-to-back attack errors to give the Bears a 12-9 lead. Baylor took full advantage of the opportunity, going on a 5-0 run later to take a 19-12 lead, finishing off the set with a 25-21 win.
Elliott said that they have to improve their mentality and routines in order to reverse the first set trend.
“We’ve got to understand that teams are going to come out and play well,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to not get back on our heels.”
Texas came out in the second set on a mission, looking to regain the momentum. After another back-and-forth start to the set, the Longhorns took control of the match with a 10-3 run, caused by three kills by junior middle blocker Molly McCage and four attack errors by the Bears.
“It was a big move for us,” senior outside hitter Khat Bell said. “It showed courage, and it showed how much trust we have within our team.”
The Longhorns continued that dominance into the third set. Coming out of the intermission, Texas jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead, then built upon it a little later with a 3-0 run to take a 13-6 lead in the set. Sophomore middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu finished off the set with kills in two of the last three points as the Longhorns took a 2-1 lead in the match.
Texas finished out the match with a fourth set similar to the previous two. The Longhorns jumped out to a 10-6 lead, forcing a Baylor timeout, and never looked back, winning the set 25-19.
Bell led the Longhorns with 14 kills while Ogbogu finished with 11 kills. The Texas block also had a big night with 16 total blocks.
Bell said they’re going to have to work on coming out stronger in the first set during those three matches before the NCAA tournament begins.
“It’s mine and Haley [Eckerman’s] last go around, so we have to start strong and finish strong,” Bell said.
After ten weeks of regular season play, it is time to start predicting who will win what awards in the NFL.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills
Many may argue that Carolina Panther’s wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is the clear offensive rookie of the year since he has caught seven touchdowns compared to Watkins’ five. However, Watkins provides more of an impact to his team. Anytime Watkins hauls in over 80 receiving yards in a game, the Bills are 4-0. When he records less than 80 yards in a game, the Bills are 1-4. Watkins and Benjamin have put up similar numbers but Watkins’ impact to his team is undeniable.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Chicago Bears
Despite dropping off the radar the last couple of weeks due to injury, Kyle Fuller is still in contention for defensive rookie of the year. Fuller’s performance this season should have Bears fans excited about their heir to Charles Tillman. As the first player in 20 years to record three picks and two forced fumbles in his first three NFL games, Fuller’s play indicates he will easily fill in Tillman’s big shoes. Fuller currently has three forced fumbles and three interceptions on the season. Regardless of Fuller’s impressive play, if the Bear’s defense keeps giving up 50 points per game, there is no way Fuller wins this award.
Comeback Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
After breaking his collarbone last year in a contest with the Chicago Bears, Aaron Rodgers has sought out revenge against Chicago and is playing some of the best football of his career. Rodgers has torched Chicago this season throwing for ten touchdowns against them in two games, including a six down touchdown performance in the first half alone against the Bears this past Sunday. Rodgers isn’t only performing well against Chicago, as he is third in the league with 25 touchdowns and only three interceptions. What’s amazing is that Rodgers has thrown for 25 touchdowns on only 277 passing attempts. In comparison, touchdown leaders Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck have compiled passing attempts of 353 and 393, respectively. Rodgers is officially back.
Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Bruce Arians is the clear-cut coach of the year. Through Week 10, the Arizona Cardinals are 8-1 and hold the best record in the league after defeating the St. Louis Rams 31-14 in Week 9. Arians’ performance this season has been especially impressive since he has lost many key players on both sides of the ball, but the Cardinals somehow continue to win games. However, it will be tough for the Cardinals to recover after losing quarterback Carson Palmer for the season due to an ACL tear, but if Arians is able to get the Cardinals to win the NFC West with Drew Stanton under center, Arians should win the award unanimously.
Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys
DeMarco Murray has been everything and more that the Cowboys have asked for this season. Murray started the season rushing for 100 yards in each of his first eight games. Perhaps the reason for these amazing numbers is that his workload is insane. He has carried the ball a total of 244 times and has rushed for a league high 1,233 yards. If Murray stays healthy, he is on pace to break the 2,000 rushing yard mark and possibly Eric Dickerson’s regular season rushing yard record of 2,105 yards. The only blemish on Murray’s resume is that he has fumbled the ball five times this season. Murray’s performance this season is one of the key reasons why the Cowboys are playing so well.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Defensive end, Houston Texans
Watt’s dominant performance this season has not only put him ahead in the defensive player of the year discussion but also in the NFL MVP conversation. In addition to three touchdowns, Watt also has 39 tackles, eight and a half sacks, three fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. Since 1957, the NFL MVP has been awarded to the best player who is thought to be the most valuable to his team. The award is almost always won by a quarterback or a running back and has only been awarded to a defensive player twice. Lawrence Taylor, linebacker of the New York Giants, last won the award back in 1986. Watt is with no doubt going to win the defensive player of the year award, the real question is, will he be the first defensive player to win the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor?
Most Valuable Player: Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
There are many candidates for MVP in the NFL this year including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and J.J. Watt but, through Week 10, Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck is the frontrunner for the award. With a league leading 3,085 passing yards through nine games, Luck is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s record of 5,477 passing yards in a season. Luck’s completion percentage (63.6%) and average yards per attempt (7.85) are significantly higher than his first two seasons in the NFL. Luck and the Colts are also on pace to win the AFC South for the third straight year and could possibly clinch a first round bye in the postseason. Even with similar numbers to Brady and Manning, Luck might be given the award simply because he has never won it before.
When the Chicago Bears selected cornerback Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech with the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft, most people were stunned.
The Bears passed on star safety prospects Haha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama and Calvin Pryor out of Louisville to draft a cornerback when the Bears already had two capable corners, Charles “Peanut” Tillman and Tim Jennings. It seemed Fuller was destined to be a backup, at least for his rookie season.
After Tillman went down in week two with a triceps injury, it was Fuller’s time and his impact was immediate.
Fuller subbed in for the injured Tillman against the 49ers and intercepted quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice in the fourth quarter, keying the Bears’ victory. The next week, Fuller recorded another interception and forced two fumbles as the Bears beat the New York Jets 27-19.
Kyle Fuller’s impressive performance this season has put him on top of the NFL’s stats sheets as he currently leads the NFL with five turnovers and is tied for first with three interceptions. His performance through the first four games of the season earned him the honor of NFC defensive rookie for the month of September. Fuller however isn’t satisfied.
‘‘That’s a good honor,’’ Fuller said, ‘‘but still, I’m just trying to get better every week.’’
Fuller’s performance in October has been just as impressive. Two weeks ago against Carolina, Fuller faced off against the offensive rookie of the month, receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Fuller handled Benjamin with ease, allowing only three receptions for 38 yards on 11 targets.
On Sunday against the Falcons, Fuller was at it again. He limited Julio Jones, a top-five wide receiver, to only four receptions for 68 receiving yards on 12 total targets. Fuller also forced a fumble on Jones but it was later recovered by the Falcons.
Now mentored by Tillman, Fuller has adopted the injured Tillman’s aggressive style of play on both coverage assignments and forced fumbles. This includes the “Peanut Punch”, in which Tillman and now Fuller literally punch out footballs out of receiver’s hands at every possible opportunity, leading to a high number of forced fumbles.
Coming from a football family, Kyle Fuller knows what it takes to be a football player in the NFL. Kyle’s oldest brother, Vincent, is a retired safety and his older brother, Corey, is a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. The youngest Fuller brother, Kendall, is presently playing cornerback for the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Fuller doesn’t have the outspoken personality like star cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson but has proven to have the same tendency for making big plays. Fuller doesn’t want the lime light that Sherman and Peterson receive. He just wants to play football.
‘‘I’m just being myself,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m just low key, doing what I’ve got to do and staying out of trouble.’’
Kyle Fuller, the soft-spoken cornerback, is taking the NFL by storm and is quietly becoming one of the best defensive players in the league.
74-44-2: Texas’ all-time record in its fifth games of the season, a win percentage of 62 percent.
17-6-1: Texas’ record when entering a game 2-2, a win percentage of 71 percent.
74-25-4: The all-time record, in Texas’ favor, between the Longhorns and Bears, a win percentage of 73 percent. While the Bears have never won more than two in a row against Texas, the Longhorns won 16 games in a row against Baylor from 1958-73.
10: The number of times Baylor scored at least 30 points against the Longhorns in the previous 103 meetings between the two teams. The Bears broke 30 in each of the last four meetings and won three of those meetings.
5: The number of senior classes — 2013, 1992, 1991, 1989, and 1939 — at Texas that lost to Baylor in three out of four seasons. This year’s class sits at 1-2 against the Bears.
25-13: The average score, in the Longhorns’ favor, between Baylor and Texas all time.
12.7: The average scoring differential of 12.7, in Baylor’s favor, against the Longhorns’ 2014 senior class would be the worst mark ever, if it holds. The 2013 seniors finished their careers being outscored by Baylor by an average of 11.5 points.
9-7: The Longhorns’ record when they face a Baylor team ranked in the AP poll. Texas is 4-4 against the Bears when Baylor is ranked in the AP poll and Texas is not. Unranked Texas teams are 3-1 against Baylor when it is ranked in the AP Top 10, however.
56.8: This season, Baylor is averaging 56.8 points per game, the best mark in the country. The Longhorns are only averaging 21.3 points per game, good for ninth in the Big 12.
9: Texas has picked off nine passes, second-most in the nation, so far this year. Of those nine interceptions, eight of them came in victories.
1: The Bears have made just one field goal on six attempts this season, a conversion percentage of less than 17 percent.
12.8: Against the Bears, opponents only average 12.8 first downs per game, best in the conference and fifth-best in the nation. Texas only averages 16.5 first downs per contest, ranking dead last in the conference.
0: The number of sacks allowed by the Bears’ offensive line on the season. The only other NCAA team that has yet to allow a sack is New Mexico State. The Longhorns have 17 sacks on the season and have yet to record fewer than three in a game.
9: The number of passes by Baylor that have gone for 40-plus yards this season, tied for second in the country. The Longhorns have yet to allow a pass of over 35 yards.
Amongst all the depressing news in the NFL regarding domestic violence, the league finally has a reason to celebrate: Devin Hester has broken Deion Sanders’ NFL touchdown return record.
With a comfortable 28-0 lead, the Falcons forced a three-and-out against the Buccaneers forcing them to punt. The rest is history.
Devin Hester fielded the punt on the 38-yard line, hesitated and started a full out sprint towards the end zone. Hester went untouched for a 62 yards, resulting in a touchdown with 7:06 remaining in the second quarter. After scoring, the overjoyed Hester hugged and startled a Georgia Dome security guard. It was his 20th career return touchdown, surpassing Deion Sanders’ record of 19.
Hester did more than just break Sanders’ record, though, as he rushed for a 20-yard touchdown, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble as the Atlanta Falcons routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14.
Many teams choose not to kick to Hester because even if he doesn’t run it all the way back for a score, he often puts his team in great field position. Lovie Smith, Hester’s former head coach in Chicago and the current head coach of the Buccaneers, knows this better than anyone else, but he still kicked it to him anyways.
Although Hester has played seven of his nine years as a wide receiver for the Bears and Falcons, he is most efficient on special teams as a kick returner. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006, 2007 and 2010, and earned a spot on the 2000s All-Decade Team by the Associated Press and ESPN.
Hester’s most memorable year as a kick returner was his rookie year, when he had six returns for touchdowns: three punt returns, two kick returns, and a missed field goal return against the Giants. Arguably the most memorable kick return in Hester’s career was on the opening kickoff against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl. Hester’s kick return in the Super Bowl held the record for the quickest score in the Super Bowl until this year when the Seattle Seahawks forced a safety on a bad snap on the first play of the game.
Hester gained a reputation for running bad routes and dropping passes as a receiver for the Chicago Bears. After new hires were made at the head coach and general manager positions in 2013, Hester was demoted from the wide receiver position and was strictly assigned as a returner.
Even though Hester was loved by the Bears and their fans, the team informed him this past offseason that he would not return to Chicago for a ninth season due to the salary cap. While Bears fans are disappointed that Hester broke the record in another team’s uniform, it is still great to see a guy like Hester finally break Sanders’ record.
In the first two games of the series, the battle between Texas and Baylor was focused mainly on the pitchers. But in the final home game of her career and the last game of the season, senior shortstop Taylor Thom placed the spotlight on herself.
With the game tied at two in the bottom of the seventh and senior centerfielder Brejae Washington at first, Thom lined a doubled to right-center field to score Washington and give the Longhorns a 3-2 win over the Bears on Senior Day.
“It couldn’t have been scripted any better,” head coach Connie Clark said.
The game, as it has been any time Texas and Baylor play each other in softball, was a pitcher’s duel between the Longhorns’ freshman ace Tiarra Davis and the Bears’ senior ace Whitney Canion. After giving up runs in each of the last two innings in a loss against the Bears Tuesday night, Davis allowed only one run through the first four innings, mainly thanks to her control of the change up.
“Every day that we had from Tuesday to now, we spent working on [the change up],” Davis said. “It felt great to have it.”
Meanwhile, it was Canion who blinked first in the duel. In the second inning, the first two batters reached base and senior catcher Mandy Ogle laced a double to right-center field to score a run. Freshman left fielder Stephanie Wong then hit a sacrifice fly to up the Texas lead to 2-0.
But the Bears would chip away at that lead, scoring a run in the third on an RBI single by senior first baseman Holly Holl. Then in the fifth with a runner on base, Washington misplayed a single by freshman second baseman Ari Hawkins to center, which allowed a run to score to tie the game and Hawkins to reach third base. The Bears almost took the lead on a sacrifice fly from the next batter, but Hawkins was caught leaving third early to end the inning.
After a scoreless sixth, Baylor again threatened with two runners reaching base with two outs, including a single that bounced off the face of freshman third baseman Devon Tunning. Despite being down for multiple minutes and a bevy of trainers and coaches around her, Tunning stayed in the game.
“That was a shot,” Clark said. “Devon was tough through all of that and I’m proud of her tenacity and mental toughness.”
After a pop out ended the top half of the inning, the bottom of the seventh inning was set up perfectly for the Longhorns. Washington, sophomore right fielder Lindsey Stephens and Thom were due up. Then Washington reached on a signature bunt base hit to lead off the inning and after Stephens popped out, Thom took to the plate.
“You have to want that moment and I want that moment just as much as anybody else,” Thom said.
Thom took hold of that moment, lining a ball in a gap that Baylor had given her in right-center field which Washington scored easily on to give Texas the walk off win in the seniors’ last game at McCombs Field.
“I’m sad to say that that’s my last game here, but it was a great way to end [the game],” Thom said.
The four seniors on the team—Thom, Washington, Ogle and first baseman Karina Scott—leave the program with a record of 177-54 and a Women’s College World Series appearance, though those aren’t quite final numbers yet for the class.
Six hours after the game ended, the Longhorns learned that they are headed for a tenth-straight NCAA tournament. Texas will join Mississippi State, Louisiana at Lafayette and Texas Southern in the Lafayette Regional. Earlier this season, the Longhorns beat both ULL and Texas Southern twice in tournament play.
That, along with the momentum from the walk off win over Baylor, gives Thom hope that this team can make a run in the postseason.
“We have to keep pitching like Tiarra did today and we have to score runs and have great defense and I think we’re going to be great,” Thom said.