Linebacker leads young TCU defense with toughness, loyalty

Posted Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Five storylines to follow in tonight's game

1Nothing to see here: A win over SMU may not do much for TCU from a national perspective, but a loss is disastrous. And although players and Gary Patterson downplayed the rivalry this week, you can be sure there's added TCU emphasis (i.e. revenge) for last year's overtime loss.

2Weather watch: There's a 70 percent chance of rain, so bring your ponchos. A wet field could equate into a big day for receivers, who always have the advantage in slick conditions.

3Stay on Line: SMU running back Zach Line has been a thorn in TCU's side the last two meetings, rushing for 139 and 120 yards, including an effective use of draw plays. He has 299 yards and two touchdowns in three games in 2012.

4Running rotation: Last week Matthew Tucker led TCU with 15 carries, more than the rest of the team combined. Will the Frogs show more backfield options, including more runs for freshman B.J. Catalon and senior Aundre Dean?

5Defensive pride: SMU's offense had 28 first downs and more than 500 total yards in a 59-24 season-opening loss at Baylor. But TCU's defense only has to remember a year ago when SMU gained 461 yards in a 40-33 overtime win in Fort Worth, the Frogs' last defeat.

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Not much rattles Kenny Cain.

The TCU linebacker was thrust into a starting role last season because of others' injuries, but he made the most of his moment and led the Horned Frogs in tackles.

This season, he's the lone senior starting for the No. 15 Frogs' defense and has become the unquestioned inspirational leader on and off the field. His teammates look to him for guidance and strength, two attributes that come naturally for the New Orleans native.

Cain, in turn, feeds off the family atmosphere and strong bonds with his teammates. It's that loyalty and love he learned from his family when Hurricane Katrina swept them from their home in New Orleans in August 2005. Cain was about to start his freshman year of high school when the storm hit.

"After a couple weeks, you could stay in your house if it was in livable condition," Cain said. "We made the best out of what we had. The floors were all flooded and there was wind damage, but we got a lot of blankets and stuff and put them on the ground so we could sleep on them."

There was no power, however, so an aunt bought a generator to run during the day. The family slept with open windows at night, which allowed mosquitoes to pester them while they tried to sleep.

"It's hot already, so you don't want to cover up because you're hot," Cain said. "When you take the covers off, the mosquitoes bite you. So you're stuck in a bad situation."

Soon, the authorities forced most residents from the city, including Metairie, Cain's community in Jefferson Parish. After a few weeks of bouncing between relatives' houses and a brief stay in Houston, Cain was set on making it back to attend John Curtis Christian School, just west of downtown New Orleans.

He enrolled a day before the delayed season opener on Oct. 1. Cain lived with coach Jerry Godfrey and his wife and two kids for four years while he played football, alternating between linebacker and running back.

"I was just happy to be around a bunch of people who actually cared if I had some place to sleep or not," Cain said. "I don't want people to feel sorry for me. I was like, I'm OK, I'm alive. That's the only thing I could ask for. Don't feel sorry for me."

Cain found that same family atmosphere at TCU when he came for an official visit after being recruited by Chad Glasgow less than a month before signing day in January 2009.

The only thing Cain knew about TCU was LaDainian Tomlinson and that the horned frog shot blood out of its eyes.

"I was happy to have a school calling and offering a scholarship," Cain said. "I loved how all the players got along and how they interacted. On some of my other visits, some of the football players didn't get along. And that was a big problem for me, because back at my high school all the players got along -- black, white, rich, poor, kicker, deep snapper, first string, third string -- we all got along."

Godfrey is not surprised by Cain's success at TCU. His wife and kids are driving in to watch Cain and the Frogs (3-0) play at 6 tonight at SMU (1-2). Godfrey plans to attend the Frogs' Oct. 20 game against Texas Tech, too.

"My two kids think of him as their older brother," Godfrey said. "When he comes back to town and spends time with us, it's just like one of our kids coming back home."

When Cain reflects on Katrina, he remembers how his family stuck together despite the calamitous situation.

"You could have been selfish, you could have taken your family to a place where a lot of FEMA money was coming in," Cain said. "I love how my whole family stuck together."

Another hurricane earlier this year led to the family of Cain's sister Latoy moving to Fort Worth. "That's the best thing to happen for me," he said. "It's my senior year; I've got my family right here. They can come to the games, watch practice."

Cain took his two interceptions and fumble recovery against Virginia last week in stride, enjoying the moment by joking he was hoping a tackler would catch him from behind on his two returns that went for a combined 56 yards.

When he was told that coach Gary Patterson had said in jest that TCU "had no linebackers" after the game, Cain knew what his coach was doing.

"You have to understand Coach P," he said. "You have to be around him and understand things from his point of view. That's why I have such a good relationship with him. He really wants to see how you're going to react to it. In practice, he'll get on you to move an inch over to the left, but he's just trying to get in your head to see how you're going to react to it."

Patterson, though, knows no pressure from a coach will ever rattle Cain.

Said Godfrey: "He had to be tough. He didn't come from an easy neighborhood. He was really tough coming to us -- mentally tough, physically tough. His outlet was football and sports. I think he's attacking life the same way he attacks on the football field."

Stefan Stevenson

817-390-7760

Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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