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Bears origins: Bryce “Ballhawk” Callahan

Matt Hendy sits down with Bryce Callahan's high-school coach to talk about one of the most underrated players in the NFL.

Matt Hendy from The Loop Sports tracked down Bryce Callahan‘s High School Coach to find out more about the perennial underdog who’s rapidly becoming a leader on the Bears Defense.

Having to earn respect is a habit for Bryce Callahan. He set records in High School that may never be broken but was overlooked by the “big” schools. He lit up the stat sheets in college but went undrafted in 2015. He bounced between the practice squad and the 53-man roster in his first NFL season. Now, in his 4th year with the Bears, he is an indispensable part of the Defense.

Through 6 games in 2018, Bryce has already eclipsed his solo tackles number for the 2017/18 season and is fourth on the team in total tackles. Elite athleticism, toughness and a knack for blowing up screenplays have been his calling cards so far this term.

How did the “small kid” from an unheralded High School who then played in Conference USA become one of the top slot corners in the NFL?

Bryce Callahan’s family traveled a lot when he was young as they followed his father’s work around the country. The Idaho born Bears-star finally settled in Cypress, Texas. His High School, Cypress Woods, (one of about 12 – 13 in the Cypress area) didn’t have a football program but they recruited an ambitious Head Coach in David Jones to lead them to the promised land. By the time they were Varsity eligible in 2008, the Cy Woods Wildcats had 300 kids on the roster.

David remembers:

“We knew Bryce was special the moment he stepped on the field. You could see it. He was an incredible athlete. He just moved differently to the other kids. But he was small.”

Small Kid

Despite his stature, Callahan found ways to tower above his peers. He quickly established himself as a do-it-all leader for the Wildcats scoring touchdowns on Defense, Offense and on Special Teams. Starting out at corner and moving to safety, Callahan still holds the school records for; punt return TDs – 4, career interceptions – 13, and season interceptions for which he’s first and second on the list with 7 and 6.

Unsurprisingly this led his defensive coordinator to give him the nickname “Ballhawk”. His temperament and work ethic also made him stand out from the crowd:

“Bryce was just a fun loving, easy going, no big deal, no stress kind of a kid. The coaches loved him, the Administration loved him, and the kids loved him and not just the football guys either.”

“He always did what he was asked to. He was never late for practice and was always in the gym when you told him to be. He always showed up ready to go. He worked hard, and we saw him improve as a tackler and become tougher and more physical.”


Bryce’s exploits on game days carried the football program far beyond expectations. In his senior year, the Wildcats went 8-2 in the regular season and made it to the playoffs. The first-round playoff game is David’s abiding memory of him on the field:

“We played Westwood High School from Austin in the first round. I knew their coach and he’d told me that they weren’t going to punt to Bryce because of the fear of what he’d do to them – he was averaging 26 yards per return.”

(Bears fans might remember Callahan’s punt return skills from his “fake” return score against the Vikings in week 17 of last season).

“Just before the half, I guess their punter either made a mistake or forgot and kicked to Bryce who ran it back 62 yards to score and give us the lead. That will stay with me forever.”

Callahan also made two interceptions that day and, even more amazingly, did all of this with a cast on his hand!


Despite everything he’d achieved, when it came time to move on from High School, Callahan didn’t get the attention that he should’ve:

“We never knew he would play in the pros, but we definitely knew he could play for a really big school. Scouts came from Texas, Nebraska, Oregon, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Mississippi State but they ignored him as he didn’t look like a ballplayer. He had good offers from some smaller schools like Colorado, Kentucky, and Northwestern but he chose to stay local.”

Callahan ended up traveling thirty miles down the road to Rice University. He redshirted his first year but got a chance to play in week 5 of his rookie season. He made two interceptions that day and never looked back racking up countless awards and nominations and placing high on Rice’s all-time records lists. Of course, he still didn’t earn a combine invite. However, a stellar pro day performance put him on to some team’s radars.


Bears fans have mixed views on the 2015 draft. On the plus side, it yielded two defensive starters in Eddie Goldman and Adrian Amos. However, the franchise has had little return from Kevin White or the departed Hroniss Grasu, Jeremy Langford and Tayo Fabuluje.

Perhaps Ryan Pace’s best bit of business was reaching out to grab Bryce Callahan who is now, as history showed he would, repaying Pace’s faith in a huge way.

Deep in Texas, surrounded by huge college programs and NFL teams, there’s a small cluster of Bears fans – David Jones’ family.

“Whenever the Bears are on TV we’ll watch them and cheer for Bryce. My two daughters put him on X-Box teams and their fantasy teams and we’re going to ask him to send us a signed photo too.”

All good coaches learn something from every player that they coach. David says about Callahan:

“Bryce showed that you can be a normal kid and still be successful. You don’t have to be ate up with sports. You can ride your skateboard and play video games. He worked hard, he listened to his coaches and he really cared about his teammates. You never had any doubt that Bryce would put it on the line for the team.”

I don’t know about you, but Bryce Callahan is my kind of Bear.

 You can follow Matt on Twitter

Featured Image: 247Sports 


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