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September 26, 2013

Askew's moment arrives -- at a new position

During his first three seasons at Texas A&M, Nate Askew registered a total of 9 catches for 95 yards and one touchdown while playing at wide receiver. He has equaled his career scoring total in 2013, with a touchdown against Sam Houston State.

On an interception.

Now, five games into his senior season, the new outside linebacker will get his first career start as the No. 10 Aggies (3-1, 0-1 SEC) travel to Fayetteville to face the University of Arkansas (3-1). After being an afterthought for three seasons, Askew was moved to linebacker in the spring as an experiment; at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, 235 pounds and capable of running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, the switch was an risk worth taking.

"He was struggling at receiver," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Struggling with route concepts, struggling with catching the ball."

After compiling six tackles, a pass deflection and a sack against SMU in A&M's 42-13 win last Saturday, he is an experiment no longer. Instead, he's validating the belief of Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder that he could contribute at a totally new position based on his pure athletic ability.

"He's a guy that's got that much talent, I just hated having him standing next to me during the game," Sumlin said. "With a guy that's got that much talent, you try to find a way to help your team."

After a 2012 season that saw Askew catch all of three passes and his biggest play, against Mississippi State, called back on a penalty, he was approached with the idea of switching to defense.

"My philosophy has always been, let's not give up on the guy. Let's try to find something for him," Sumlin said. "If we exhaust everything that we can with a guy who can run that fast, is 230 pounds., has a 40-inch vertical jump -- we're going to recruit that guy every year and hope we get him, because he's going to be highly recruited. We've got the guy in the program; let's try to find a place where he can help us."

Askew played in each of A&M's first four games, racking up 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections and the sack against SMU. His biggest moment may have come against Sam Houston State, when a pass tipped by fellow linebacker Darian Claiborne landed in his hands. With his receiver instinct kicking in, Askew sprinted 30 yards for the second touchdown of his career.

"He's catching the ball on defense better than when he was on offense," Sumlin said jokingly Tuesday. "He's already scored more touchdowns on defense than he has when I've been around. I give him a hard time about that -- but he doesn't think it's funny, by the way."

The Aggies' struggles agains the run have been no laughing matter either so far this season, which has led to some changes in starting personnel. Originally expected to be a situational player used mostly in passing situations, Askew is now being tasked with a very different assignment against a run-heavy Arkansas offense.

"It's going to be interesting. I think Nate's up to the challenge. We're going to give him an opportunity," Snyder said. "This is a chance for Nate to show us that he's become a complete player. We know what he can do against the spread because of his athleticism. Now we're going to see how he can do against a really physical team."

Even though playing a large number of snaps against a physical defense will be a new challenge for Askew, Sumlin sees a different player than the one struggling to get on the field on offense.

"He's embraced (the move); he's playing with confidence," Sumlin said. "Has he made some mistakes? Sure. But he's moving that way and I think the bigger positive is he's helping our team more than he was at wide receiver."

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