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Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger grew up with dreams of being under center for the Longhorns at Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium. He first accomplished that dream on September 9, 2017 when he made his first career appearance versus San Jose State, and has lived that dream ever since.
Ehlinger has started all but one contest at DKR following his freshman debut. There have been tremendous highs, disappointing lows, and a volatile middle ground between those extremes during Ehlinger’s career. In what is likely his final home game as a Longhorn Friday versus No. 13 Iowa State, Ehlinger hopes to leave Texas’ home field with a victory and move one step closer to playing for a Big 12 championship.
The COVID-19 reshuffling of the schedule means there are two road games remaining for the Longhorns after Friday’s matchup versus the Cyclones. Plenty of season still, but games against the conference’s two Kansas institutions do not carry the same Big 12 implications as the upcoming battle.
There will be emotions prior to the game. Longhorns head coach Tom Herman made it clear in his Monday press conference he would recognize the moment and remind Ehlinger how much he means to both he and the program. After that?
“He’s not going to want to be all sappy,” Herman said Monday. “He’s going to want to go out and get warmed up to go win a game and worry about all this legacy and senior day and all that stuff after the game and after the season.”
Ehlinger took plenty of questions about his time on the Forty Acres during a media availability on Tuesday. He spoke about the responsibilities that go along with being the quarterback of the Longhorn football team, things he wished were different, things he would not change, and some of the highlights of his career.
Questions about his career and the emotions of senior day ahead of his final home game were to be expected, but those details are not what Ehlinger believes is important about the upcoming weekend.
“I think it would be selfish of me to not be focused on the task at hand understanding the magnitude of this game,” Ehlinger said. “I will be as focused as possible on the game plan to win for my team.”
Since it is likely Ehlinger’s last home game in his final collegiate season, the pressure upon Herman to deliver a conference championship with a senior quarterback who has rocketed up the school record book has never been greater.
This is the quarterback Herman connected with in the earliest days of his tenure, the one he chose over Shane Buechele and others, and the one he has stuck with since 2018.
“He deserves a lot of credit for that and his steadfastness, his leadership ability, his belief in not just the University of Texas, not just in University of Texas football, but in our program and our way of doing things,” Herman said. “He’s a part of 2018 that was the highest winning percentage of a season since (2009) and we’ve matched that already and on the cusp of hopefully surpassing that this season. He’s got a lot to be proud of.”
Ehlinger was asked if he considered returning for another season in 2021 using the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19. Ehlinger deflected the question, saying it is not something he has given much thought. Going through senior day and receiving an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl should signal this is likely the last time Longhorn fans will see Ehlinger wearing No. 11 at home.
Prior to enrolling at Texas, Ehlinger said his mentality was to leave the Longhorn football program better than he found it. His arrival and efforts on the Forty Acres coincided with a recovery that has brought Texas out of historical depths and to a competitive level.
Whether it be his road debut at USC where he said he was “running around out there like a chicken with its head cut off,” or exclaiming Texas was back on the Sugar Bowl stage (“Would I do it again? Probably not.”), Ehlinger’s time at Texas has included many highlights.
But there’s one more highlight he is chasing, a Big 12 Championship, and Iowa State stands in the way.
“Still have got work to do and still have a great opportunity in front of us,” Ehlinger said.