A Chip off the Old Block

What do Archie and Peyton, Phil and Chris, and Jay and John all have in common? The first two pairs of names may be recognized by even the most nominal of college sports fans. They are, of course, father/son quarterback legends Archie and Peyton Manning, and Phil and Chris Simms. So who are John and Jay?

Texas Tech football supporters recognize the name John Saldi as a key link to one of the Big XII's premier linebacking corps, and his father Jay is a former Dallas Cowboy and Chicago Bear tight end.

Since he was young, John has known who the sports star in his family was. It was and always has been his father Jay, who played in two Super Bowls while with the Cowboys. The thought of playing sports beyond high school rarely entered John's mind as a junior at football powerhouse Southlake Carroll. You see, it was tough enough just making the varsity squad at Carroll, which he didn't do until his senior year.

The irony of the whole deal is that in his senior season he was named 6-4A Defensive Player of the Year as well as the district's "Newcomer of the Year."

As a junior at Carroll in 1999, Saldi played the first 8 games of the junior varsity season as a quarterback. His 6-foot-4, 190 pound build along with 4.5 speed seemed to be a perfect fit for a play-caller, but Carroll already had a record breaking young quarterback at their disposal, so Saldi was switched to outside linebacker for the final two games of the season. Things were never quite the same after that. Thanks coach, that was a mighty fine decision.

Fast forward five years. John Saldi is now 50 pounds heavier, playing strong side linebacker, and heading into Texas Tech's biggest game of the season against Big XII south rival OU. Yet his relationship with his father remains stronger than ever.

"He's been there every step of the way," Saldi said of his dad. "He has helped me push through everything; especially the switch from offense to defense, and he has helped me get to where I am now."

Last season, Saldi was constantly plagued by an ailing ankle that hounded him for much of the fall. Because of the injury, he was not the opposing force at weak side linebacker (WILL) that Coach Lyle Setencich was hoping for. This season, Setencich decided to switch Saldi and senior linebacker Mike Smith to be able to better utilize Saldi's speed and wingspan.

"It's a different view of the offense," said Saldi. "Now if Mike (Smith) and I get switched up it's not a big deal because I played there last year. I think it has really helped the defense."

The 2003 season proved to be a tough for everyone on the Texas Tech defensive unit. After reaching a season low against Big XII opponents Missouri and Oklahoma State, Tech realized things had to change defensively.

What a difference a year makes.

Now, after two amazing back-to-back comebacks, the defense is working like a well oiled machine, especially in the third quarter. Through the first four games of the season, Tech has only allowed three points in 60 minutes of play in the third quarter.

Defensive Coordinator Setencich has started having the opportunity to throw a few more tricks at offenses this season as his players are more comfortable with all his defensive schemes.

"The scheme is great," said Saldi. "It really just depends on how we execute it. If you've got 11 guys on the field who know what they are doing and deal with their responsibilities, it's hard for any offense to run on them.

And that's just what the Oklahoma Sooners will be trying to do on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Norman- run the ball. OU Freshman tail back Adrian Peterson is currently ranked No. 8 nationally averaging 133.3 yards a game on the ground. Then again, last years' Heisman Trophy winner Jason White isn't too bad either at slinging the ball through the air.

"They like to run the ball and pass the ball," Saldi said of the Sooners. "What we would like to do is make them pass the ball more and we should be ok."

Winning on the road is no easy task in the Big XII. Tech will be challenged for the fourth time on the road this season against the No. 2 Sooners. There are expected to be over 80,000 screaming fans at Memorial stadium. Last week against Kansas, Tech went into the locker room at halftime down three touchdowns only to blank the Jayhawks in the second half and win the game 31-30.

"Any win on the road is huge," Saldi said. "We got one step closer last week with a win in Kansas and this week would be a huge step for us. We have got to come ready to play."

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