New programs often take shape around the passing of a highly visible quarterback. The Houston Baptist Huskies, in their third regular season, are taking shape around the league leading tackling of linebacker Garrett Dolan.
In 2016, Dolan tops the Southland Conference in total tackles through nine games with 114. He also has two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two sacks and 14.5 TFLs.
The key to his success? “It’s really the guys up front. I love those guys, they fight and pick up the blocks for me,” said Dolan earlier this year. “I wanted to help build the program up and get wins like this.”
Dolan is doing just that. In late October, the junior from Mont Belvieu Texas, a no-frills oil town 15 miles east of Houston, had 14 tackles in HBU’s 24-17 road win at Lamar. By any measure it was a milestone victory in the Huskies’ short history. It gave HBU a program record for wins in a season (3), conference wins (2), and was also the first-ever conference road win its history.
“One of the things that is probably important to understand, when you’re growing from ground zero up – you’re working to become good, so you have a chance to win,” HBU head coach Vic Shealy said after that game. “Once you kind of get there, you find a way to win the close games, so maybe one day we’ll find a way to win going away, but we’ll take it tonight.”
For his efforts in Beaumont, Dolan received the Southland Conference player of the week accolades. It was the latest of an ongoing string of honors for the redshirt junior. Last year he earned Southland All-Conference honorable mention for the second straight year when he posted 110 tackles, and 6.5 TFLs. On his career he has a remarkable 357 total tackles, including 56 in the program’s seven-game developmental season of 2013.
The 6-2, 240 pound Dolan is the perfect example of what could prove the HBU model for success. Recruited locally, he is a former all-district player from the greater Houston area and chose the opportunity to play immediately with the Huskies.
Following the victory over ACU, national broadcast journalist and Southland Conference expert Grant Boone assessed the progress he is seeing at HBU. “When I looked at Houston Baptist last week, they are in arguably the most fertile recruiting soil in America. You look at every good team in America and they’ve got at least one kid from Houston no matter where they are, be it Florida or whomever, everybody’s got at least a kid from Houston,” said Boone.
“Houston Baptist is getting better. The athletes that they have — I’ve noticed it. They didn’t start football until 2013 and that was an exhibition year.”
With players like Dolan in the huddle, HBU has scheduled a slate of increasingly strong opponents in becoming competitive in the FCS. To open the season in 2015 the Huskies played the NAIA’s Bethany College. By comparison, this year they play an all-Division I schedule that includes two FBS opponents — Western Kentucky earlier in the season and two weeks ago at UTEP.