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Courtesy: GoBearkats.com
Record Breaking Kats Setting New Standards
Courtesy: Gene Schallenberg/Huntsville Item
Release: 11/25/2012
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During the last two years, the Bearkats have ventured into previously uncharted territory.

Winning an outright Southland Conference championship last season, advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision national title game in January, maintaining a top 10 ranking in the FCS for 20 consecutive weeks and returning to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, Sam Houston could not be where it is today without a strong coaching staff as well as dynamic playmakers.

Since arriving on campus in 2010, quarterback Brian Bell and running back Tim Flanders have become Sam Houston State's gold standard offensively. In less than three full seasons, including the playoffs that kick off for the Bearkats next Saturday, Bell has become the Kats' all-time leader in touchdown passes (46) and total offense (6,280 yards) and is just 84 yards away from taking over the career mark for passing yards.

Flanders is atop the list for career rushing yards (3,743 yards), rushing touchdowns (52), career scoring (330 points off 55 total TDs) and is 184 yards from becoming Sam Houston's all-time leader in all-purpose yards.

Record books don't often highlight defensive play, such as keeping a player from getting the ball thrown his way, so it's harder to get noticed on that side of the ball.

Senior cornerback Dax Swanson and safety Darnell Taylor have been able to write their names in the record books in the Bearkats secondary the last few seasons. Following solid performances against Texas A&M in the regular-season finale, Swanson pulled into a tie for first place with longtime player and coach Ronnie Choate (1956-59) for career interceptions (13), while Taylor surpassed Stan Blinka (1975-78) for career solo tackles.

Just before heading home for Thanksgiving, Taylor and Swanson got to meet their predecessors, talk a little football and learn some Bearkat history.

"It's an honor to meet these guys, great Bearkats who come back to watch us and support us," Swanson said. "It means a lot. It shows that, as a team, we're doing what we're supposed to do and having this much support by former Bearkats. We just want to keep it going."

Coming into the 2012 season, Swanson, who had an SHSU single-season record of eight interceptions last fall, knew he needed just three more picks in order to tie Choate's career interception record. Taylor had 165 career solo tackles, which was 50 away from Blinka's mark.

"I didn't really know until the fifth game that I was so close until coach told me. It kind of caught me by surprise," Taylor said. "I know with me, it starts up front with those guys. I just try to play my part and the guys up front help me."

In their game against the Aggies at Kyle Field, Taylor collected five solo tackles to pass Blinka's record of 215 to up his career mark to 219. Swanson's interception midway through the second quarter, his first since the game against Texas Southern on Sept. 27, moved him alongside Choate for most career picks.

"I'm out there on an island a lot, so I just have to be technique-sound and try to go after the ball every time it's in the air or whenever I see it," Swanson said. "When the D-line gets pressure (on the quarterback) or the secondary gets pressure, that makes it easier for me because I don't have to cover as long.

"I try not to think about records because it kind of gets your mind off-track and off-focus. I just try to do my best. If I feel like I've played a great game, I can live with that."

The two records stood unmatched for a combined 84 seasons.

"Time has changed a lot," Taylor said. "I feel like it's going to keep changing. You never know how things are going to change in the next 10 to 15 years. As far as when they played, my hat's off to those guys. They were tough. It was a tough game. It is more about speed, strength and size (today), but those guys were tough."

Even though they're years removed from their playing days, Huntsville's Choate and Blinka, who resides just outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., but finds time to return to Huntsville every year, always keep a close eye on what the Bearkats are doing and the progress they make.

"As a former coach you want to win. That's the number one objective, but you like to see people play well on both sides of the football. These two guys just happen to be playing on the same side of the football," Choate said.

Over the past two seasons, they've had plenty to look forward to as the Kats trail-blazed their way through the regular season and the playoffs in 2011 and have played the part in 2012 as one of the top FCS teams in the country.

"A lot of that has to do with Willie Fritz coming in here and recruiting," said Blinka, who was a three-time All-American in his final three seasons with Sam Houston and played professionally for six seasons with the New York Jets (1979-83) and also in the USFL with the Denver Gold (1985). "You've got to have athletes to win games. A coach's job is to bring the best out in that athlete.

"I think Willie Fritz has done a great job. These two guys - when you're successful that's when you start breaking records.

"As an ex-Bearkat, you always want to see them do well. You want to do well on the field and athletically or academically because ultimately, that's where it's going to end up. We had won 14 games in my four years, so when you see that it gives you a lot of pride. I've always loved this school."

In light of Swanson's and Taylor's recent accomplishments, both Choate and Blinka admitted that the game is far different than from when they played years ago.

With much more complicated schemes and game plans, the two former Bearkats said it would be much more difficult to play today's game in which there is significantly more passing plays.

Unlike the days when Choate and Blinka played, it has become rare to see a team line up in the wishbone or wing-T, formations that have players all line up close to the ball trying to win the battle in the trenches and move the ball with the power running game.

"You have teams like Oregon that get the play in so fast and line up so fast, I wonder how the defense knows what to do as far as stunts, blitzes, coverage packages," Choate said. "When I played, the quarterback had to call all of the plays and defensive captains called all the defensive plays. It is different.

"It's interesting from my perspective to see what I saw way back. We didn't have leather helmets. We had plastic helmets with no facemask."

"We had it easy. As slow I was, as long as I was between the tackles, I was OK," Blinka said jokingly. "It was easier for me to make the tackles I made because it was pretty much running the ball and if you beat one guy, you could make the tackle. I'm a middle linebacker, I'm supposed to make the tackle. "They're throwing the ball this way, that way, right, left. As slow as I was, I'm lucky I played when I did because I know I couldn't play now.

"We would have so many running plays, for (Taylor) to have the solo record (in today's game), it's awesome because he's probably had less opportunities than I had. For him to do what he's done has been a pretty neat thing to watch on the field and make those tackles."

Another big difference is that players today are much more athletic, versatile, Blinka said.

"The guys are so much more conditioned and trained," he said. "Some people are training their kids from birth to be pro athletes. One of the things is that you're so big, fast and strong, but as far as the game in general, I finished my career with a guy in the USFL with a guy named Mouse Davis and he was originator of the run-and-shoot offense. He took it from high school to college to eventually the Falcons in the NFL. That was origination of the passing offense.

"Now you're playing the percentages that someone is going to miss a tackle and athleticism takes over. Back in my day, everybody lined up close to the ball and it was three plays and a cloud of dust. Quarterbacks have always been important, but they're even more important now. You need a complete team, guys who can catch, you need to give the quarterback time. Instead of just moving the ball, it's more finesse."

As good as those records are to have, Taylor and Swanson as well as all of the other Bearkats hope to be able to bring home another first, an FCS national championship.

The journey back to the national championship game begins next week as Sam Houston hosts Cal Poly in the second round. The Kats need just three hard-fought wins to return to Frisco to get a second chance to play for a national title.

NCAA Playoff ticket Information (Complete details by clicking this link)

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