Rod Reed waved the carrot in front of Rico Council.
At the time, Reed was the defensive coordinator for Tennessee State and he was recruiting Council, a promising middle linebacker out of Chattanooga. Trying to motivate Council to join the Tigers, Reed challenged Council by saying he could break the school records for tackles in a single season and a career.
Who owned those records? Reed. A former middle linebacker himself, he recorded an incredible 197 tackles as a senior in 1988. Reed, who will begin his second season as TSU’s head coach, finished his All-American career with 406 tackles.
“He sold that to me,” Council said. “So I wanted to come here and see what I could do and break his records.”
Five years later, Council has moved his way up the charts. After posting a career-high 79 tackles last year, he now ranks second at TSU with 209 career tackles.
“He told me that I wasn’t going to break them but I wanted to try to prove him wrong,” Council said. “I’m real far off. He had 197 in one season, so I am at least trying to catch up and make it look good.”
Council figures to be in the middle of what TSU hopes is a turnaround season, which begins on Sept. 3 against Southern at LP Field.
The 6-foot, 256-pound senior is one of six starters returning to the defense. His size, speed and strength are all reasons why he was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason co-defensive player of the year on Monday, in conjunction with the league’s media day.
That same skill set could take him to the next level, according to his coach.
“I think he definitely has the build for it,” Reed said. “He’s fat to me. He is probably a little over 250 but he can run. He’ll strike you. He has a good nose for the football. I think a lot of scouts would be interested in his talent level.”
At the current moment, Council is just interested in guiding the Tigers back to their winning ways.
TSU ended last fall on a six-game losing streak, finishing 3-8. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Tigers went 0-7 in OVC play for the first time since joining the league in 1986. League coaches and sports information directors couldn’t overlook that dubious record as they projected TSU to finish eighth out of nine teams.
“I’m surprised they put us eighth,” Council said. “I feel like nothing should be just given to anybody. By us not winning any games they put us where we deserved to be. We have to show them that we can play.”
To Reed, the Tigers could play with the conference’s best. They just couldn’t finish.
Defensive lapses doomed them as five of their losses were by less than seven points.
“We gave up a lot of big plays,” Reed said. “We have to eliminate the big play out of our defense. When I say big plays I’m talking about easy touchdowns, long passes… Southeast Missouri won the conference and they beat us 19-17 and we gave up 400 yards rushing, which is very uncharacteristic of a TSU defense. We have a few things that we need to work on, but I think that this team isn’t that far away.”
“As a defense, a big play kills all momentum,” Council added. “When I go out there my main objective is to eliminate the run. I don’t want to stop it; I want to eliminate it so it will be nonexistent. We just have to get to that mentality of it is either us or them.”
Before Council graduates in December with a degree in psychology, he’ll have one more shot at his coach’s records. But he’ll need a mammoth final season to surpass his coach.
Don’t challenge him, though.
“I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason,” he said. “So anything that comes my way, I won’t be surprised because I worked hard.”