Bryce Hager

When Baylor senior linebacker Bryce Hager steps on the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, he’ll be competing on behalf of two families: his biological family and his Baylor family. Although both will undoubtedly root for Hager’s success, their common loyalties may stop there.

Hager didn’t receive an offer from Texas as a high school senior, but he dwells among Longhorns when he visits home. Before entering the NFL, Hager’s father, Britt, played for Texas from 1985-88, and he still holds the program’s single-season tackles record — 195 — and all-time tackles record with 499 tackles. 

After eight years in the NFL, Britt Hager came back to Austin to raise his family. In addition to sending his kids to Westlake High School, Britt molded each of his four sons into football players. The youngest of the four, Breckyn, is a two-star linebacker, according to Rivals, who has received offers from SMU, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. Breckyn originally committed to the Bears, ready to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. But on Sept. 24, he flipped his commitment from Baylor to Texas, crossing family lines. The Hager legacy in Waco now rests on Bryce’s shoulders. An All-American candidate like his father — Britt Hager was an All-American at Texas before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles — Bryce Hager is a leader for the Bears’ defense, both on and off the field.

Leading the team with 21 tackles through the first four games of 2014, Hager’s statistical dominance isn’t anything new. Even when a groin tear, which required surgery, shortened his 2013 season, he still racked up 71 tackles. And he’d already led the Big 12 in tackles as a sophomore in 2012, averaging 9.5 tackles per game for a total of 124 tackles.

The defense suffered without him down the stretch last season, allowing 446 yards per game compared to just 306 when he was on the field. Hager missed last season’s Texas-Baylor matchup, which proved to be the de facto conference championship game. And, as he continued to mount missed games and underwent surgery, Hager worried he might not be able to return to form.

“Just being able to take on a hit again — you don’t know how it’s going to feel, if your legs are going to give out,” Hager told The Dallas Morning News in August. “I could run around and do everything; it was just the mental side.”        

Any mental struggles or lack of confidence should be long gone now. Allowing just 80 rushing yards per game, Baylor leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth in the nation. Its 8.5 tackles for loss per game ranks fifth in the nation, and its 3.74 yards allowed per play ranks fourth. The Bears haven’t always been such a powerhouse, Hager recalls. But he says that’s what makes the success even more exciting.

“It’s been a crazy ride going from winning five games in the conference to being Big 12 champions,” Hager told KVUE this week. “It’s something you could only dream about, it’s something that we accomplished and we’re really excited about the journey.”   

Last year’s Big 12 championship was, in fact, a dream come true for many Bears. But it was also a dream Hager missed being a part of because he was sidelined by injury. Now, with the renewed family rivalry, Hager’s excited to take on the Longhorns. When he looks to the stands, he’s not sure if he’ll find his family in burnt orange or green and gold. But, as the leader of the Bears’ defense, he knows family will be by his side.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

QB Bryce Petty (Jr.)

Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel are garnering Heisman attention for their performances this season but Bryce Petty is putting up his own Heisman numbers. The junior signal-caller has led the explosive Baylor offense all season long, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,557 yards, 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Bears’ huge loss to conference foe Oklahoma State cannot be ignored but neither can Petty’s performance this season as the Baylor offense is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, averaging just over 55 points per contest. Petty has been about as efficient as one can be while putting up video game-like numbers and keeping his team in the Big 12 title hunt at 10-1 overall heading into the game with Texas. Petty has thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game this season and has even done his part in the running game, racking up 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. If the Baylor offense is going to be contained, it will start and end with Petty.

 

RB Lache Seastrunk (Jr.)

Seastrunk is an interesting player who has finally found a home in Waco after bouncing around his first few seasons in college football. The Temple native is the leading rusher for a running game that ranks No. 11 in the nation, compiling 982 yards and 11 touchdowns on 126 carries this season. Seastrunk is a big and powerful back who can run defenders over just as easily as he can outrun them for big yardage. His 7.8 yards per carry is a staggering statistic that’s facilitated by the potent passing game of the Bears. If Texas can disrupt Petty, Seastrunk will still be there to pick up yards. The Longhorns need to limit his effectiveness to force Baylor to beat them in one way instead of two.

 

LB Bryce Hager (Jr.)

Texas will be looking to establish their run game to poke holes in the Baylor defense, one that is ranked No. 27 in the country. Bryce Hager will be the catalyst for this game plan. Hager is second on the Bears’ defense with 71 tackles despite missing two games this season. His 7.9 tackles per game are a team-high. Hager is the most complete defender on this defense, showing his ability to disrupt the passer with nine quarterback hurries and his ability to drop into coverage, evidenced by his three passes broken up. He will be around the ball the entire game and Texas has to find a way to move the ball away from his side of the field.