Growing up in the East Texas town of Henderson, Trestan Ebner’s mind often drifted to what he was seeing at McLane Stadium.
There he saw Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman making spectacular catches, burning defenders deep and using his strength to break tackles. Since he also played wide receiver, Ebner was mesmerized by Coleman’s array of skills that made him the 2015 Biletnikoff Award winner before becoming a first-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns.
“Corey Coleman was my favorite receiver,” Ebner said. “I watched his highlight tape before every game. He had a swagger. I idolize Corey Coleman and hope to meet him one day.”
When first-year coach Matt Rhule offered Ebner a Baylor scholarship, he jumped at the opportunity and verbally committed in January. But before he could pursue his dream of becoming the next Corey Coleman, the Baylor coaches asked the incoming freshman if he would move to running back before preseason camp began.
Though Ebner hadn’t played running back since his freshman year at Henderson, he quickly accepted.
“I think the decision by Trestan to go ahead and move shows the loyalty that he has and the person that he is,” Rhule said. “He’s as hard working and tough and industrious of a kid as there is. So I think the biggest thing for him is that we knew he had great speed and great hands, but he’s gotten more comfortable.”
Ebner showed just how comfortable he’s become at his new position by scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help the Bears nearly upset No. 22 West Virginia last weekend at McLane Stadium.
Heading into last weekend’s game, Ebner had made contributions in spot situations. His first college touchdown came against Oklahoma State the previous week when he jumped on quarterback Zach Smith’s fumble in the end zone.
But in the fourth quarter against West Virginia, he showed many reasons why Rhule was so excited about signing him. The Bears almost overcame a 25-point deficit, and Ebner was at the center of the rally.
The first thing he did was catch a pass over the middle from freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer before turning on the jets for a 52-yard touchdown. On Baylor’s next possession, Ebner blew up the middle and outran everyone for a 40-yard touchdown.
After the Bears drove 77 yards to West Virginia’s 9 in the final minutes, Ebner watched as Brewer dropped the snap from center. But after seeing Brewer pick up the ball and scramble to his left, Ebner adjusted his pass route and got open for the 9-yard touchdown catch for Baylor’s 23rd point of the quarter to cut West Virginia’s lead to 38-36 with 17 seconds remaining.
The Bears didn’t finish off the comeback as Brewer was sacked on the two-point conversion attempt. But Ebner had the breakout game he had been looking for. True to his unselfish personality, he was eager to credit his teammates’ contributions to his big night.
“In high school, I had three touchdowns in one quarter and five in one half, but in college it’s just different,” Ebner said. “I have to give all the credit to my teammates and the line and the tremendous blocks I picked up. You can see on the touchdowns I didn’t have to do much work. That’s a credit to my linemen and the receivers for blocking downfield for me.”
Ebner’s teammates knew what he was capable of doing, and were glad he provided a glimpse of his vast potential against West Virginia.
“He’s just fast,” said Baylor linebacker Lenoy Jones. “He’s explosive. When he sees a hole he just hits it. He and Charlie (Brewer) play with no fear. I think we should all play like that, no fear and just have fun.”
With the winless Bears losing their seventh straight game, Ebner didn’t feel like celebrating.
“To have the game like I had you want to be able to celebrate it,” Ebner said. “But I’m not happy because we lost. So maybe I can have another game like that and get a W. I feel like it’s coming. Y’all see it and we see it. We’ve just got to put it together.”
Baylor moved Ebner to running back to add depth since junior Terence Williams missed the first three games following offseason shoulder surgery. Ebner picked up the basics of the position quickly, but admits that he still has much to learn.
“Being physical is the biggest difference,” Ebner said. “It’s a little different than catching balls at receiver and then running. You have to learn that when you see a hole to hit it, and if there’s someone in the way you’ve got to make them miss or run though them. Go north to south and not east to west.”
Ebner has made the most of practice time by learning from running backs coach Jeff Nixon and veteran backs like Williams and JaMycal Hasty. He’s also tried to replicate moves from players he’s seen on TV.
“I’m a firm believer in learning from people who have done this,” Ebner said. “So I looked at T-Dub (Williams) and J-Myc (Hasty) and just take advice from them. My favorite running back is Christian McCaffrey, so I tried to steal some of his moves and learn from him. I listen to what Coach Nixon says, and whatever he says to work on I put some extra time into it.”
Though most backs don’t catch a lot of passes out of the spread formation, Ebner gives the Bears that option since he has tremendous hands from playing wide receiver for three seasons at Henderson. With five catches for 109 yards against West Virginia, he became the first Baylor running back to surpass 100 yards receiving since Brandon Whitaker had 166 yards against Colorado in 2007.
Ebner has also shown a willingness to block, making him an ideal third-down back.
“He’s been one of our third down backs because he can get in there and block,” Rhule said. “I think it is a credit to Jeff (Nixon) by taking a receiver and teaching him how to play running back, but really it is a credit to Trestan. He’s just a football player. He’s been willing to do whatever we’ve needed him to do. He runs down on kickoffs and he runs down on punts. All the jobs we ask him to do, he does.”
Ebner was a do-it-all athlete at Henderson, starring in football, basketball and track. He was talented shooting guard and defensive player for the basketball team, and made the state track meet in the 100 and 200 meters.
After an injury-plagued junior football season, Ebner delivered a breakout senior season in 2016 as he made 57 catches for 1,074 yards and 16 touchdowns. He showed his versatility as a defensive back and linebacker as he finished with 69 tackles and five sacks while forcing two fumbles.
“We had an amazing team as a senior,” Ebner said. “We made the third round of the playoffs where we lost to Carthage after we had beaten them during the season. We fell short of state, but I wouldn’t trade my teammates for anybody.”
Ebner originally committed to TCU in the summer of 2016 where he planned to join Henderson running back La’Kendrick Van Zandt. But he decommitted last December before making his commitment to Baylor in January.
“Baylor was my dream school,” Ebner said. “I had a good relationship with Coach Rhule and Coach (Shawn) Bell. I just took a risk. I knew TCU was going to be a good team and they had their coaching staff they’ve had for years, and they’re always going to be good. But I wanted to try to take a chance on Coach Rhule and try to make something and be a part of something I helped create and build the program back to where it used to be.”
Ebner found it ironic that he had his breakout game against West Virginia because one of his favorite Corey Coleman highlight tapes was his 2015 performance against the Mountaineers when he made 10 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns in Baylor’s 73-42 win at McLane Stadium.
“Corey had a tremendous game against West Virginia and I probably had my best game against them,” Ebner smiled.