The last time the Gary Patterson moved a safety to linebacker, Travin Howard became the Horned Frogs’ all-time leading tackler of the Coach P era and earned himself a spot in and NFL camp. With Howard on to the NFL (he signed with the Chargers’ practice squad last weekend after initially signing with the Rams as an UDFA), GP went looking for his replacement, and found a Boy From the Boot that fit the mold perfectly.
According to sophomore Garret Wallow, who introduced himself to TCU fans Saturday afternoon with a series of big hits and an effective recklessness on the field, the move had been in the works since his freshmen year. “Coach P used to always mess with me my freshmen year saying he was going to move me to linebacker - but I never thought he would. Then he actually did. So I knew it was coming.” It seems to be working out well, by way of the early returns. With four tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a QB hit in the Frogs’ season-opening victory over Southern, Wallow was all over the place at LB, making Patterson’s prescient notion look genius.
Last spring, Patterson thought Wallow had a chance to be special, saying “Garret has got a chance to be a really special player. He came from John Curtis high school so he was coached really well and nothing bothers him. He asks the right questions and he knows how to focus.” This fall, he paid him an even bigger compliment, comparing him to former TCU great Jason Phillips. “He’s got coverage abilities, he’s tough, and he can run. He’s like Jason Phillips - you’ve got to turn him down four notches. Don’t call anything crazy the first couple snaps because he won’t know you called another defense. You’ve got to slow things down.”
For his part, Wallow seems honored and flattered by the comp. “He did compare me to Jason Phillips because I know one speed, and it’s 100%. He always tells me that, always tells me to slow down a little bit.” Any coach will tell you that they would much rather have to tell a player to slow down than speed up, so it seems like Garret is right on track to be great.
But it isn’t just the reckless abandon that he plays football with that makes him ready to be a key cog for a TCU defense that many predict will be the class of the conference, it’s a Football IQ that reminds the coach of another all-time great - the player he’s trying to replace, Travin Howard. “He’s of that same kind of football knowledge level. You can move him around and he knows what’s going on; he doesn’t get flustered easy. When he screws up he knows what he did right away or he’s immediately asking so he doesn’t do it again and that’s the kind of guy you love to coach.”
Though the expectations are high, and the learning curve steep for such a young player, Wallow doesn’t seem flustered by the moment. For the sophomore out of Louisiana, it’s just football - and he was ready. “I felt very prepared. Between camp and these two weeks to get prepared - we went over a lot of plays, spent a lot of time on what they do, so I was very confident.” It helped that he came out of the gates and made a big play early, recording a sack deep in TCU territory that helped keep Southern off the board. The hit got him pretty fired up, but he recovered well. “I was pretty amped up. I was excited to make that play for my team. After the play, coach gave me ‘that look’, so I had to get back focused, get back to reading my formations.”
Wallow is one of the younger guys on a defense that is rife with veteran experience at linebacker and in the secondary. Even though many of the guys haven’t been career starters, they’ve been in the program - three of the four linebackers on the depth chart are seniors, and you have juniors and seniors across the secondary as well - with a couple first and second year players mixed in. But, despite having been around for several years, this was the first opportunity for many players to show that they can be ‘the guy’, and in Wallow’s estimation, they delivered. “I think our defense played well. We are a humble team, so we know we have a lot of improving to do, but we played very good as a whole unit.”
Wallow seemed to transition to his new role well, something becoming more and more important as it frees up Ty Summers to play defensive end, a role he looked very comfortable in Saturday. He seems to have taken to the role as starting linebacker with aplomb, and seems ready to lock the job down for the year. “I don’t really struggle [with the transition]. At safety, you cover a lot. It’s almost like strong safety - you still have to cover. So it’s really been a good transition. I really like it. I really feel like it’s the position for me.”
One game in, against an overmatched opponent, won’t tell us a lot about the TCU defense. But there are plenty of opponents coming up on the schedule that will give them a shot to make their names known. The sophomore backer knows they can answer the bell. “We are a very fast defense. We play fast.” That speed was evident against Southern, and will be useful going forward as well. “I just know that, come tomorrow, we just have to get prepared for SMU. Move on, wipe this team away, and focus on the next team.”