Just in case you missed it on page 89 of Sports Illustrated’s February 15th Issue was its recruiting class rankings and “your” Texas Longhorns came in at No. 8 in the nation.
This is the most enthusiastic I have seen Texas Football fans since Colt McCoy’s run to the Rose Bowl to face Alabama in 2009. For sure it’s a long way to the kickoff against Notre Dame and so many things have to fall in place before the 2016 UT squad runs out of their dressing room and there are 100,000+ plus fans on their feet ready to begin the season.
Believe me, this will be a much different Texas football team. The Longhorns have loaded themselves with new weapons, a new way of executing on offense, lots of heavy players on their defensive line along with a crew of talented linebackers and highly recruited players in the defensive secondary, which could mean much tighter coverage on those slant routes. Count on Malik Jefferson being even more of a defensive weapon as an outside linebacker.
So this last Wednesday I went with three of my Longhorn buddies to look at the “new facilities” that I saw during the signing day Longhorn Network telecast. You can’t get to see them because of recruits and their families in the Tex-Moncreif Building were in the coaches offices, the weight room, and locker rooms are located in the south end zone at DKR-Memorial stadium.
Reason No. 2 for going from home base in Cleburne, Texas to Austin was a get-together of Inside Texas contributors.
Like you, I was hoping to shake hands with the “Big Cigar” whoever that may be. Way before that exciting signing day for Texas there were insiders at Inside Texas that predicted a highlight day in spite of the outside news media.
How in the world did they know? Newspapers around the state were all gloom and doom for the 5-7 Longhorns of 2015 as far as gaining a top-flight group of incoming players. Brent Musburger echoed that note during a basketball broadcast the week before NSD.
My good friends and I found out about one of those qualities which I would attribute directly to Coach Charlie Strong as we got inside the Texas Football facilities on a beautiful day in Austin.
In the Texas Locker Room we met LB from Brenham, Tim Cole. The young man stuck out his hand and introduced himself with a smile. One of my friends touted the fact that I was a linebacker himself in the previous century. As I was looking up to this strong looking, 6-foot-2, 232-pound senior-to-be, he laughed and said “really” in a nice way. I told him I sat four rows behind the opponents bench and that I would yell at him during the pre-game warmups next season. More laughter and with a great smile he said, “Please do!.”
I mentioned somebody had to step into Peter Jinkens’ spot at middle linebacker and the smile disappeared as he said “That’s my goal this spring.”
We left and went to the weight room. Texas has come a long way since the day in 1963 when I went to see Coach Royal and let him know the sophmores we had on the Texas team from San Antonio Jefferson High School – Phil Harris, Hix Green, and a big read-headed linebacker named Tommy Nobis had to wait until Gregory Gym PE classes were finished to lift weights. Nobis had come to me and asked if I would talk to Coach Royal.
It was my first year on staff and I was determined to give it my best shot – here is what I remember about that conversation:
“Coach, Tommy Nobis and his Jefferson buddies want to lift weights and they are having to go to Gregory Gym late after PE classes are through.”
“Do you think they need them?”
“Yes sir, I did that with Tommy Ford and Scott Appleton myself.”
“Well hell – I didn’t know that but we have plenty of room at the stadium. I’ll see what I can do.”
End of conversation and I hustled back down to Coach Mike Campbell’s office where I had a small desk. That was the start of the Longhorn weight program as newly bought equipment was put in the south upper corner of Memorial Stadium within two weeks.
In 2016, the Longhorn weight room with the Longhorn decal on every weight is world class, complete with a 60-70 yard running track. While examining the track, a big looking youngster was all by himself doing violent curls with a curl bar. He was sweating and I noticed he put down the bar loaded with weights, grabbed a towel, and headed up the stairs.
Two of my buddies got to meet D’Onta Foreman – the one who secured the brilliant victory over OU with an 80-yard scamper right in front of the Sooner bench in the fourth quarter. Our very own Leonard Fournette.
My friends got a similar handshake and smile as Foreman climbed the stairs out of the weight room.
There were no coaches in the weight room although we had met the man that helped convince Brandon Jones to come to Texas – Jeff Traylor. Another fine coach on this staff.
That afternoon at the “Cover 3” restaurant we went man-to-man with all those IT superstars (Eric and Justin) that nailed it on Signing Day predictions. Even Clendon Ross made an appearance; the man who is responsible for taking over Inside Texas from Robert Heard.
The whole group were like jet fighter pilots giving lots of tips about what was coming this spring in the way of change on the Texas offense. I was impressed to say the least. They care and they are hoping for the best.
In this time of trouble over lack of discipline at Texas A&M, in football rape charge cover ups at Baylor by athletes – Coach Strong set up a standard in that first year by those suspensions. There is no wiggle room in this operation.
Those smiles and handshakes, those “yes sirs” and “no sirs” were the real deal and will go far beyond the football field.
Now, I’m ready for Spring ball.
Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.