Stewart, Porter make their mark on Aggie defense
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 01:11
With “Johnny Football” and Heisman talk ablaze across the country, the overachieving Aggie defense took a back seat in publicity. What often goes unnoticed are the integral contributions of A&M defenders — including two senior linebackers — to what could be A&M’s first 10-win season since 1998.
Senior linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter will witness their final game at Kyle Field come Saturday, but their impacts to the program will be felt well
Entering A&M as a freshman in former head coach Mike Sherman’s second season — a 6-7 season defined by program rebuilding — Porter said he knew his class had potential to be great.
“Ever since that summer we met each other, we all came in and always talked about how good of a team we could be because we thought our class was very talented,” Porter said. “I think with a lot of hard work, senior leadership and young guys stepping up, we had a great season this year.”
It was a class that battled through its share of growing pains. After a surprising 9-3 regular season campaign in 2010, the Aggies plummeted to a disappointing 7-6 finish in 2011. Expectations were low for a team now standing among the SEC’s elite programs with a potential BCS berth on the line.
Stewart mentioned the roller coaster ride but said there would be time to reflect on his class’ impact in the future.
“Since I’ve been here [we’ve had games] where we got blown out, nailbiters we won and lost and games where we blew our opponents out,” Stewart said. “It’s been a great ride but we’ll probably wait until the season is over when we look at what we did to springboard A&M into the SEC, get recruiting going and getting back to where A&M needs to be.”
The key to an A&M resurgence was the revitalization of its defense.
Leaders on a stout defensive unit, Stewart and Porter are the second and fourth ranked players in team tackle totals, respectively. They’ve combined for 70 solo tackles, eight quarterback hurries, seven tackles for loss and four sacks. While the numbers aren’t mindboggling — solid as they may be — the duo provides a coach-like presence for the rest of the defense.
“Those two guys are coaches on the field. I’ve enjoyed being with them and around them,” said A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. “My challenge to those guys was to get in my head, because I can’t play.”
The linebackers responded to the challenge by rampaging through the vaunted SEC with a vengeance — dispatching Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama in the process. Marching into Jordan Hare Stadium against a beleaguered Auburn team, the linebacker unit would show no mercy — sacking the Tigers’ quarterback three times in their three initial drives.
The scheme began to click.
“Around the middle of the season they started getting in my head,” Snyder continued. “You know things are going on when guys are coming to the sideline saying, ‘Let’s try this.’ And it’s a good idea.”
Chemistry between the two seniors played a factor as well. Both freshmen starters at the young beginnings of their Aggie careers, Porter and Stewart would figure each other out as much as themselves through the growing process.
“We were two of the 18 [freshmen] so we were young pups out there together and we just grew out on the field,” Porter said. “We have tremendous chemistry. I kind of know what he’s thinking and he knows what I’m thinking ”
Now prepping for their final huzzah in an Aggie uniform in front of the 12th Man, Stewart said it would be an emotional moment for the seniors to play and win in a last outing at Kyle Field.
“The last time I walk off Kyle Field, hopefully it’s after we saw varsity’s horns off,” Stewart said. “If we’re fortunate enough to win, the fans might be stuck in the stands for a while because I’m going to be very slow walking off the field. It’ll be emotional, but as long as we get a win, it’ll be happy emotions.”