The Bearkats typically play just two linebackers at a time in their 4-2-5 defensive scheme. But the No. 2-ranked Sam Houston State football team isn’t short of playmakers at that position.
Starters Eric Fieilo and Jesse Beauchamp form a pairing that should have never been, except a season-ending injury during the 2012 opener against Incarnate Word sidelined Fieilo, who became a medical redshirt in his fourth season with the Kats.
The fifth-year senior is back for another run at a Southland Conference and Football Championship Subdivision title, while Beauchamp returns from a breakout all-conference season as Fieilo’s replacement from a year ago.
SHSU also added Tanner Brock, the leading tackler of the infamous 2011 Texas Christian Rose Bowl team. Brock has transitioned from an unfortunate ending to his TCU career, to re-establishing himself as one of the top linebackers in the league with a team-leading 38 tackles on the season.
Brock already once earned Southland Conference “Defensive Player of the Week” honors after the Bearkats’ 55-17 victory against Texas Southern on Sept. 14.
“I was truly blessed to walk into the situation I did,” Brock said. “Eric and Jesse are both great players, but it doesn’t stop there. Behind them, we still have three or four guys who have had game reps. Given the injuries last year, they had a chance to get in the game and they’ve improved themselves as well. So we have quite a bit of depth and I think throughout the season, that will really help us stay fresh and kind of give us an upper hand on a lot of teams.”
A couple of Waco imports in sophomore Tristan Eche and Baylor transfer Myke Chatman fill out the depth at linebacker.
Bearkats defensive coordinator Mike Collins isn’t complaining about having so much activity at the position and said the team finds ways to keep them busy with distributed special teams assignments.
“It’s like I tell them all. We need to do a great job in special teams, because if you don’t do a good job on special teams, you’re not going to play on defense,” Collins said. “If you can’t give us your very best in everything we ask you to do, you’re not going to give me your very best on defense. That’s kind of the approach we’ve taken. It’s been a good approach. I think the guys have played well on whatever teams they’re on. Each one is on a different team.
“And they need to be because they can add a lot to our football team. It’s always good to have those guys and see them do well in those areas. It’s kind of a good scenario that we have. Great kids and really good football players.”
Fieilo was carted off the field in last year’s opener after suffering a slipped disc in his vertebrae, which needed to be removed and replaced. Surgery required doctors to take a bone from Fieilo's hip to replace the slipped disc, leaving a scar on his neck and his side.
Fieilo observed from the sidelines in 2012 and said he is still getting comfortable with the game speed. Rustiness only makes him second on the team in tackling with 35 totaled, only behind Brock.
“It feels great,” Fieilo said of his return. “A lot of guys tell me that I haven’t skipped a beat but I feel like I’m two steps behind. I need to pick it up a little bit more. But overall, I just thank God for me coming back.”
Collins, in his first year with the Kats, sees value in the depth at linebacker.
“We’re so excited about getting Eric back,” Collins said. “Any time you have that kind of injury, you never know. That’s been a real plus for us. He’s such a super football player, but he’s an even better young man than he is a football player.
“And the experience Jesse gained, he’s talked about that on several occasions. As unfortunate as Eric’s injury was, there’s always a next man up. Jesse seized the moment, took the opportunity and ran with it. He kind of got dinged up in fall camp, so it really gives Tanner an opportunity to get in the fold. Whereas, who knows, he may have never have gotten the opportunity like he did other than that.
“So I’ve got a really good problem with those three guys. We should see more of them and it gives me some flexibility. I’ve got Tristan Eche, who’s been playing really well. Myke Chatman has been added to the mix, too. I’ve been pleased with those guys and the way they’ve responded to their role during the season.”
Tickets for the Sam Houston Homecoming game vs. Lamar are available online now at www.gobearkats.com .
The Sam Houston athletic ticket office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The West Side ticket office at Bowers Stadium will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday’s game day. The Bearkat Alley tailgate opens at 12 noon and gates open at 12:30 p.m.
For more information, call the SHSU athletic ticket office at (936) 294-1729.