By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 6, 2015) — It has been anything but the start Tarleton State was hoping for to its 2015 football campaign, though there have been diamonds in the rough.
In particular, the performance of a pair of local high school products, one from Stephenville and the other from Glen Rose.
Two sophomores who went head’s up against one another in high school and are playing alongside one another for Tarleton.
Two defenders – one who expects to move from defensive end to linebacker some this week and another who made his position switch from running back to linebacker at the beginning of the season.
Chase Varnado, a former Maxpreps All-American who helped Stephenville to the 2012 3A Division I championship, and Cody Burtscher, who starred at nearby Glen Rose and joined Varnado on various 2012 all-state rosters.
While the Tarleton defense as a whole has found the going tough, allowing more than 600 yards and 50 points per game through an 0-4 start, Varnado and Burtscher have somehow managed to back up the hype individually.
Varnado, a preseason USA Football All-America selection, has 28 tackles, 6.5 for loss and three sacks for the Texans, while Burtscher has 32 stops, four tackles for loss and two sacks. They are second and third on the team in total tackles.
Head coach Cary Fowler was not shy about his plans for Varnado during his weekly radio show on the Tarleton Athletics Radio Network Monday.
“He’s going to be one of the most dominant defensive players that we’ve had,” said Fowler of Varnado, who also has a fumble return for a touchdown. “I’m not going to be shy about it, I’m planning on putting back there at linebacker some because I don’t want teams to get to where they run away from him.”
Those comments came after Varnado had eight tackles, three for loss and a sack in an otherwise forgettable outing against Texas A&M-Commerce last week.
Perhaps not totally forgettable. There were also nine tackles made by Burtscher, whose best game was a 14-tackle performance against Findlay (Ohio) in the season opener, when he also had three tackles for loss, two sacks and a blocked kick.
While Tarleton struggles to save its current season, Varnado, and Burtscher are part of a youth movement that could pay dividends down the road for the Texans.
The leading tackler is redshirt freshman defensive back Kevin Baker, who has 39 stops and three pass breakups.
Second among defensive linemen in tackles is Tavaris Owens with 18, 1.5 for loss and a sack. Owens is also a redshirt freshman.
Sophomore linebacker Dakota Hesskew is also in the top 10 on the team in tackles, as is sophomore defensive lineman Cantrell Gaines.
The Texans continue fighting for their first win of the year on Saturday when they make the long trek to Texas A&M-Kingsville. Kickoff at Javelina Stadium is set for 7 p.m.