Being a senior, Tre Porter knows the twists and turns a college football player’s career can take. His last season — and the past month, in particular — just reinforced it.
The Texas Tech free safety has 32 career starts under his belt, but the strong safety next to him has been a revolving door of young players. He’s trying to show the ropes to a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen.
“It’s kind of different,” Porter said this week. “I’m just trying to be a leader and try to teach them all the knowledge I can of what I know about the game, what I know about Division I football and what I know about the defense. I’m trying to be ... not a role model, but like a mentor to my teammates and help them on their road through college.”
The trio of freshmen seemingly have a good player from which to learn. Porter is Tech’s second-leading tackler, and defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has singled him out more than once this season for playing at a high level.
Tech enjoyed a steady safeties pairing of Porter and sophomore J.J. Gaines for the first half of the season. Then Gaines suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and in the last four games the Red Raiders have started true freshman walk-on Tanner Jacobson, junior Austin Stewart and redshirt freshman Keenon Ward at the other safety spot.
Wallerstedt decided Stewart, after one start at safety, was better at his original spot and moved him back to outside linebacker. So the last couple of weeks, the safeties two-deep has consisted of Porter with Ward, Jacobson and Justis Nelson, another true freshman whose redshirt was removed in game nine.
Between series, Porter relays to his young charges what he’s seen and what they need to be on the alert for.
“Keenan, Tanner and Justis, they’re pretty much smart guys, so they already know,” Porter said. “I’m just trying to give them pointers and stuff like that.”
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t allow freshmen to do interviews, so Porter’s fellow safeties are unavailable to the media.
It’s an altogether different situation than a year ago. In 2012, Porter was the first-team nickel back, and Tech had four seniors starting at cornerback and safety. Four-year starter Cody Davis and three-year starter D.J. Johnson were the safeties, so it was a different form of communication.
Porter has three games left, starting with Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against No. 5 Baylor in Arlington. Pretty soon, Porter will be out the door and the young safeties will be missing the experience next door.
Porter expects them to do well on their own.
Porter says Ward has it all — speed, hitting ability and football sense. He compares Jacobson, the former Southlake Carroll star, to Davis, the St. Louis Ram who was Tech’s first- or second-leading tackler the last four years.
“He reminds me of Cody Davis so much,” Porter said. “He’s a smart guy, has potential.”
Nelson, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Dallas Christian graduate, made his career debut Nov. 2 in Tech’s 52-34 loss to Oklahoma State. Tech coaches are still deciding whether Nelson will play cornerback, where he trained for much of this fall, or safety, where he was moved to fill an immediate need.
“He’s done both, and he’s going to continue to do both,” safeties coach Trey Haverty said. “He’s a guy that has a future in the secondary. We’ve just got to figure out where.”
Porter said he thinks his successors will be “doing major things here.” Meanwhile, they’ve helped him learn how to be adaptable.
“It’s been interesting,” Porter said. “We’ve had some good times and some bad times. ... It’s just preparing me for adversity — not within football, but through life, being able to adjust to every situation.”
Follow Don on Twitter