Deshawn Pace found out he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week from his mom.
"She called me and she was screaming and stuff," Pace said. "I was like, 'What's wrong?' She was like, 'Didn't you know you won Defensive Player of the Week?'"
Pace's mom, Shellie, received the news Monday from a friend and then relayed it to her son. The University of Cincinnati sophomore earned the conference's top defensive honor after a career day Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana.
"I didn't expect it at all. It was just surprising," Pace said.
Pace had a game-high 10 tackles (nine solo) and had the late, fourth-quarter interception that helped seal the Bearcats' 38-24 come-from-behind victory over the Indiana Hoosiers.
After falling behind 14-0 late in the second quarter, Cincinnati rallied to take a 30-24 lead in the final frame. Pace then intercepted Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with 4:27 remaining and returned the ball 39 yards to the Hoosiers' 6-yard line.
"We were in Cover 2, and the ball just landed in my hands," Pace said. "... Once he started scrambling and throwing off his heels, we knew we were going to get one. We told the DBs (defensive backs) we're going to get some more interceptions this game. Stay locked in. It ain't over yet."
Pace's interception, the first of his career, helped set up a 7-yard rushing touchdown by UC quarterback Desmond Ridder with 2:37 to play. Pace's pick and Ridder's subsequent score put the game out of reach and sent the Bearcats back on the road to their third straight win.
"That play just sealed the deal," Pace said. "It showed everybody, game over. Let's get out of here, get home, let's go party."
Pace, who smiled and waved goodbye to the sold-out crowd at Indiana's Memorial Stadium before heading back into the visiting locker room, led a Cincinnati defense that limited the Hoosiers to 39 yards in the fourth quarter. It was yet another impressive outing for Pace in the young season and in his young career.
While Pace's mom has provided him with the football news, it's Pace's dad, Ivan, who has provided the football knowledge. Ivan, also a former standout at Colerain High School, began teaching Pace the game when Pace was just 3 years old. Pace began playing the sport at age 4.
Pace said his dad taught him the most important key to being a great tackler: Patience.
Pace, who this season has stepped into the sniper role, which for the Bearcats' defense is a hybrid strongside linebacker/safety position, leads the team with 25 tackles (15 solo).
Pace had 10 tackles all of last season as a freshman. He nearly surpassed that total in Week 1, racking up a team-high eight tackles in a 49-14 win against his older brother, Ivan Jr., and in-state rival Miami University.
"I wasn't surprised because I know he has a nose for the football," first-year UC defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said of Pace. "He's a good football player. I'm really excited about him. I'm glad he's doing what we all thought he could do."
Pace's growth as a player isn't a surprise to Tressel or his teammates, especially graduate linebacker Darrian Beavers. Pace and Beavers, two former Colerain stars, have known each other for years. The two, along with Pace's brother, helped lead the Colerain Cardinals to several Greater Miami Conference championships.
"That's my dude," Beavers said of Pace. "I've known him since I was like 8. He went to the same high school as me, grew up in the same place as me. I mean, it's amazing seeing a guy that I've known for a while finally getting some playing time this year and balling out. Man, this year is a big year for him, and he's been dominating."
Beavers and Pace have both been dominant for a Cincinnati defense that ranks third nationally in defensive pass efficiency. The two rank first and second, respectively, on the team in tackles. Beavers has 23 stops (13 solo), a team-high two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Beavers, along with Jarell White, played the sniper position before Pace. Beavers' experience in the role has helped Pace develop and seize his opportunity at sniper this season.
"When I first got here, I always would come to him and ask him for help on plays because I really knew him," Pace said. "I knew Jarell too but not as much. So I really stepped to Darrian because I looked at him as big brother. He helped me out during the process. He's just there for me."
When Beavers and Pace aren't hanging out with each other and each other's dogs – Pace has pit bulls, while Beavers has Doberman Pinschers – the two are chasing more championships on the field after being a part of the squad that captured UC's first AAC title a season ago.
The next step in winning those championships is getting past Notre Dame. After a bye week, the No. 8/9-ranked (Associated Press/Coaches) Bearcats will head to South Bend on Oct. 2 to face the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame's defensive coordinator is Marcus Freeman, the man who was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator for four seasons before taking over the Notre Dame defense in January. Freeman is also the man responsible for bringing both Beavers and Pace to UC.
Freeman knows Cincinnati's players and their strengths and weaknesses. But they also know his, and they haven't forgotten that he left.
"He shouldn't have left," Pace said. "So now, we just gotta go out there and show him why he shouldn't have left."