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In his sophomore season, linebacker Joseph Ossai was second on the Longhorns in tackles (81), tackles for loss (7.5), and interceptions (2). He did this bouncing between the boundary linebacker and rover positions, often playing both over the course of any of Texas’ 12 games.
Ossai entered college as a player who profiled to playing on the edge. Former Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando utilized him in several different ways, including on the edge and off the ball.
Whenever Ossai was available to the media over the course of the season, he always offered effusive praise for Orlando in teaching him the various linebacker roles despite the shortcomings of the 2019 defense. When Orlando was let go following Texas’ final regular season game, Ossai went through a range of emotions.
“I’m not going to lie, the first day I was mad because that was my position coach,” Ossai said December 28. “I spent a lot of my time with him learning and growing. I was mad at not just the decision to let him go, but myself. I was mad at myself because I immediately started thinking back to points in the season and things I could have done, plays I could have made, stuff I could have done better.”
“And maybe those things would have added up and he would still be here, but you can’t think like that, I’ve been told.”
Chris Ash was announced as Orlando’s replacement on December 17. He isn’t coaching in Texas’ upcoming Alamo Bowl, but he has met with some of the players who will be on his defense next season.
Ossai said he, Keaontay Ingram, Keondre Coburn, and Ayodele Adoeye were lifting in the Texas facilities recently when Ash walked in the weight room and introduced himself. In his brief interactions, Ossai got the impression that Ash “was a legit dude.” With Coburn, he spoke some about his plans for the defensive line.
“He came in and talked to me and said he liked how I move and how I play,” Coburn said. “He’s more of a defensive line lover, so he has a lot of packages for us and how we’re going to love the defense we’re going to run.”
That includes more four-man fronts.
Ash has coached defensive backs at all of his stops as an assistant after playing safety at Drake in the early 1990s. One of the talented safeties he’ll coach in the upcoming season is Caden Sterns, who Ash also met with in recent weeks.
“Just introduced each other and really opened up to each other,” Sterns said. “You can really tell what he wants to bring to this program. He’s really meaningful and so it’s going to be cool. I can’t wait to learn from him and get better.”
Texas’ 2020 defensive players will have to learn a new scheme under Ash, who runs much different system than Orlando. Ash will have to connect with his players, but that’s a two-way street. Ossai knows some of the onus is on him and his teammates to make the Ash hire work.
“The main thing is opening myself up to him, not just closing him off because he came and took my coach’s job,” Ossai said. “I’ll have to open myself up to him and let him do what he’s paid to do.”
That’s the off-the-field aspect that will take adjusting, not just for Ossai, but for the rest of the defense. On the field, Ossai has one goal in mind he hopes Ash will help him achieve.
“I don’t care where I play,” Ossai. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. That’s the way I think. My philosophy is I want to win.”