Freshman forced to front line

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    By Stephenson Beck

    Paul Walkenhorst is like most freshman at BYU. Three weeks into the semester, he is still learning the acronyms for on-campus buildings and is trying to decide which classes he wants to study for.

    But on Thursday he played linebacker for the football team against Mississippi State, a game viewed nationally on ESPN.

    That’s not usually part of the typical freshman experience.

    With season-ending injuries to seniors Jeff Holtry and Josh Lowe, Walkenhorst now finds himself in an unexpected position this early in his college career – a starter for the BYU football team.

    “I just expected to come in and play a little special teams – not at all getting a chance to start,” Walkenhorst said. “I’ll just have to step up and do my best.”

    Players usually have the luxury of watching juniors and seniors their freshman year, learning the defensive plays in a limited playing role.

    Injuries have thrust Walkenhorst into the spotlight, and the Cougars are not only asking him to start, but to produce.

    “Anytime you lose two of your best linebackers, it’s tough, but I think Paul is going to do a great job,” said safety Jared Lee. “The defense has a lot of confidence in him.

    “It’s just (that) now, if one of the three (linebackers) get hurt, we really go downhill.”

    Starting off the season 1-3, upperclassmen on the team have helped younger players like Walkenhorst stay focused and continue improving.

    “They were all nice from the start, helping me out and stuff,” Walkenhorst said. “I feel like I’m just part of them.”

    Even though football takes a lot of his time, Walkenhorst still deals with common freshman concerns.

    “That bookstore was crazy. When I walked in there, I didn’t know anything,” Walkenhorst said. “Those first two or three weeks were tough, even just knowing your way around.”

    Football brings an added responsibility, but Walkenhorst is determined not to let it affect him.

    “I haven’t really thought much about the pressure. I’m just going to take it one day at a time,” Walkenhorst said.

    He and the Cougars will face UNLV Saturday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. in Cougar Stadium.

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