ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Tahir Whitehead's legacy at Temple can't be narrowed to statistics alone.

Pressuring the quarterback and wrapping up ballcarriers are only some of the senior outside linebacker's contributions. The cocaptain's leadership qualities and work ethic are major reasons why Temple is playing Wyoming in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl here at University Stadium.

"He always goes about things the right way," Temple coach Steve Addazio said. "He's got toughness."

Perhaps that explains why, at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he excels as the "sam" backer.

The second-team all-Mid-American Conference selection has a team-best 12 tackles for a loss. All over the field, the 21-year-old has also recorded 59 tackles, including five sacks, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.

"He means a lot to this team," said Temple senior defensive end Adrian Robinson, who also is a cocaptain. "A lot of seniors and leaders that came through here before us, I'd put in that class."

That's saying a lot, considering Temple was the only college program to offer him a scholarship.

Despite being a standout strong safety at Westside High in Newark, N.J., Monmouth and Temple were the only colleges that showed interest. And Monmouth backed off, fearing he wouldn't qualify academically for freshman eligibility.

Bringing up his grades, Whitehead proved Monmouth wrong. And he's proving he can excel on the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

The two-year starter takes 152 career tackles into his final game as an Owl.

"I always knew that I could play the game, because I am a student of the game," Whitehead said. "I'm willing to learn."

As a result, he said, he took in something new every day. Whitehead still feels joy when thinking about his four-year journey.

"To see where I stand now is like, 'Wow,' " he said. "I've done what I've wanted to do."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com, or @pompeysgridlock on Twitter. Read his blog, "Owls Inq," at www.philly.com/owlsinq