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“It doesn’t matter what he did last year, it’s what he does this year.”

Don’t get confused, this is still Garret Wallow’s defense. But he’s got some help.

TCU v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Garret Wallow is a man on a mission in 2020.

Sure, Trevon Moehrig is the media darling, Ar’Darius Washington the wildcard.

But it’s Wallow that makes the 4-2-5 tick, another in a long line of great linebackers that seem to overachieve each year while flashier players and flashier positions get the notice.

Heading into the 2020 season, though, Wallow has gotten more than his share of shine, finding his name on just about every watchlist for defensive players in the country and being named a preseason first team All-Big 12 member.

We talk about leadership across all disciplines; there are countless books, podcasts, and Ted Talks devoted to the subject. We talk about it in the locker room as well, and often question who fills that role when a team is struggling. There was a clear leadership void in 2018, but Wallow seemed to step into that role a season later, and is expected to be one of the faces of the program as he prepares to enter his senior — and final — season in the Fort.

But as great as he has been and as good as he might be this fall, his coach isn’t taking the bait when it comes to anointing one of his star players. “It doesn’t matter what he did last year, it’s what he does this year,” Patterson said when speaking with media members earlier this week. But while he is encouraging his guy to stay in the moment, he still knows that his program would be in a lot worse shape without the senior leader. “His leadership, his knowledge of the game, of how we play and what we do [are important to the defense].” And when it comes to the linebackers in general, “it’s still Garret Wallow and everybody else needs to raise their level. Athletically, they’re very good. Educationally, as far as understanding everything they have to do one the defense, we have to keep working at it.” That everybody else is still a lot of question marks; will Marcel Brooks get cleared? Will Jamoi Hodge be ready? Will one of the young guys (Dylan Jordan, Ben Wilson, Wyatt Harris, Dee Winters) make the leap?

Thankfully for TCU Football and Gary Patterson, there is a cadre of veteran leaders on that defense; guys who have been in the program for a long time and played a lot of snaps. In addition to Wallow, Patterson mentioned Corey Bethley, who has played in 39 games across three seasons, racking up 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a DT, along with Terrell Cooper, a fourth year junior with 25 games under his belt. The defensive ends all return — with the exception of Shamiek Blackshear — and some-time starters Ochaun Mathis and Parker Workman have plenty of experience.

And of course in the secondary, preseason all-stars Trevon Moehrig and Ar-Darius Washington make up arguably the best one-two punch at safety in the country, and Noah Daniels and Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson have a chance to be very good on the edges. The battle for the third safety position is ramping up, along with the hunt to find guys to rotate in at corner.

But even as things change around him, Garret Wallow remains the keystone — the senior leader at a position that is relied on to be a coach on the field, the player with unfinished business looking to leave his mark at TCU and move up the NFL Draft boards in the process.

Wallow won’t have to do it alone, this fall, but this defense will rely on him to help elevate it to elite status.