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Aaron Sam gives the Cowboys the best of both worlds — a hitter and pass defender. (American Press Archives)

Aaron Sam gives the Cowboys the best of both worlds — a hitter and pass defender. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State’s Sam goes solo with 10 tackles

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 10:16 AM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Across the board, college football has become a highly offensive sport.

Baylor is putting up 70 points a week. Even in a blowout 59-28 win at Central Arkansas, McNeese State managed to give up 644 yards. Gaudy numbers are almost to be expected.

Part of it is schemes and hurry-up attacks. Part of it is rules changes that benefit offenses. And another factor is poor tackling, which allows routine plays to become huge ones.

With a bye week to go back to school on the subject of tackling, McNeese took the latter out of the equation in Saturday’s 31-23 win over Sam Houston State.

No one embodied the old-school style better than buck safety Aaron Sam, who led the way with 10 tackles — all solo — as well as two tackles for loss as the Cowboys held the Bearkats to half of their season scoring average.

“He had 10 unassisted tackles, and they were all in space,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “When you look at the film, on probably eight of them there wasn’t anybody within 3-5 yards of where he made the tackle. That’s huge when you can do that, because Sam Houston with their spread-option gets you in space with great players. You have to make plays.”

The performance earned Sam the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Week honor, as well as recognition as the College Sporting News national player of the week.

“It was really just me giving maximum effort and wanting to win the game,” Sam said. “We had the plays set up to stop them, and we knew it was going to be in the DBs hands.”

Sam said the real credit for the win goes to those unfortunate souls on the scout team who got the first taste of the Cowboys’ crash-course in better tackling.

“We worked throughout the off-week on open-field tackling,” Sam said. “Keeping our eyes on the player’s waist, wrapping up and alligator rolling — making sure we really went to the ground squeezing their legs and spinning. Don’t let go until you know for a fact that they’re down.

“The scout team did a really great job. Ja’Len James did a really great job at wildcat quarterback. He showed us a good look with his speed. The scout team was the reason we won the game, I feel.”

The junior graduate of LaGrange High is third on the team with 45 tackles. He said his move from cornerback to safety last offseason better suits his natural talents.

“In high school I played free safety, so I already had the mentality to go up and hit someone in the mouth,” Sam said. “When I moved to corner, I had to lose weight and get my hips right. When I moved back to safety I felt it was easier because I had already been guarding receivers, and I moved back to where I really wanted to be — in the trenches, at the line of scrimmage.”

As the buck safety in a 4-2-5 defense, Sam has to be the most versatile player on the field — quick enough cover to slot receivers, and strong enough to take down a running back at the point of attack.

“I really like the buck,” Sam said. “Because I can help with the run, but when I see pass I can drop back and I don’t have to worry about somebody beating me deep and I can cover curl-flats. Ryan (Bronson) and Terence (Cahee) are behind me.”

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