How TCU’s ‘lock boys’ has the defense playing its best football

TCU cornerback Josh Newton blocks a potential touchdown from Oklahoma State wide receiver Bryson Green during their football game at the Amon G. Carter Stadium on Oct. 15. (Madeleine Cook/mcook@star-telegram.com)

Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, annually given to the best defensive back in college football.

Josh Newton has the highest coverage grade in the Big 12 according to Pro Football Focus and one of the top transfer portal additions by any team.

Together they form a rock solid duo that has been one of the many reasons TCU’s defense has played so well in recent weeks.

“We’re the lock boys, man,” Hodges-Tomlinson said before TCU faced Texas. “I’m just really proud of what Josh Newton is doing this year. He’s helping out a lot, knowing that I have someone on the other side of me that has the same mentality as me and the want-to, to be a great it just keeps me and the guys going.”

The two have similar mindsets, but their games are a bit different.

Newton is listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds, Hodges-Tomlinson is 5-9, 180 pounds. Newton has the size, Hodges-Tomlinson has the quickness.

Whatever they may lack physically, they make up for with their competitiveness and physicality. TCU head coach sees elite characteristics from both.

“(Tre) competes so hard and he can put things behind him, whether something goes well or it doesn’t,” Dykes said. “I think that’s the great thing about him. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he has remarkable quickness and acceleration. He’s a physical guy for his size, he’s not afraid to tackle.

“He likes the physical aspects of playing corner, it’s really hard to find that. I truly believe he’ll have a good NFL career because of that.”

What about Newton?

“Josh becomes more and more confident all the time. He’s a newcomer, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, he felt like he had to prove himself everyday,” Dykes said. “I think he still has that chip on his shoulder that he has to go out and prove everyday he belongs here. He’s got an incredible work ethic. He’s very competitive, wants to be thrown at, he wants to be the guy that makes a play.”

Newton’s desire to prove himself comes internally as his teammates have already accepted him as one of the leaders of the defense. TCU recently used one of his pregame speeches as the soundtrack to a number of highlights.

“Let’s take it back, reflect real quick. When you didn’t have nobody that believed in you,” Newton starts. “We ain’t have no hope in this (expletive). No heartbeat, no pulse. We got it now! We here. Everybody step up, everybody make a play. I wouldn’t wanna be nowhere else, I’ll tell you that. This just another step to where we’re trying to go, dawg, this ain’t the end.

“We don’t even see the light at the tunnel we’re still in the dark. We might be called the Frogs, but let that dog out. We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life.”

It was a rousing speech that motivated his teammates and TCU fans alike. It’s not something he would’ve been able to do if the program hadn’t accepted him the way he did.

“They welcomed me in with open arms, open hearts, open souls,” Newton said after the win over Iowa State. “I can’t thank the guys enough for allowing me to be myself. A lot of people love me for who I am, I love them as well because they see the genuine and good energy I’m trying to spread.”

Among those that welcomed Newton with kindness and brotherhood was Hodges-Tomlinson.

“Going into every game we talk about it, it’s ‘lock boys’ for life,” Hodges-Tomlinson said. “He came in and I told him it’s all on you, it’s about how you approach every game, every practice. As a man you should love competition and from what I’ve seen from Josh he’s all about it.

“It’s good to have a brother in the room that has a similar mentality and he really cares about the team. I’m very thankful for him.”

Dykes is thankful to have both as he has two corners that can matchup with another team’s No. 1 target and slow them down. Hodges-Tomlinson and Newton held Big 12 leading receiver and Biletnikoff finalist Xavier Hutchinson to just two receptions for 11 yards.

It’s not just Hutchinson. Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims had his second-fewest yards in game this season against TCU, the same for SMU’s Rashee Rice.

Both are tied for fifth in the Big 12 with three interceptions. Hodges-Tomlinson and Newton are both tied at the top of the league in passes defended.

The play of the two standouts is among the many reasons TCU’s scoring defense has improved from 118th to 53rd in just one season. Opposing quarterbacks completed almost 65% of their passes last year, that number has dropped 10 percentage points this year.

Their cover skills give defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie so much flexibility with what he’s able to scheme up and has helped the defense play its best football at the right time. Take out the fumble return touchdown against Texas and the TCU defense allowed just over 17 points per game in November.

As the Horned Frogs prepare for Kansas State in the Big 12 championship on Saturday, Dykes thinks both players have made a major statement together as the lock boys.

“I really do believe it’s one of the best corner duos in college football, not just the Big 12,” Dykes said.