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.