AUSTIN — Texas had four players available to the media after practice on Aug. 10. The media was able to speak with the team’s star wide out John Burt, starting defensive end Naashon Hughes, experienced veteran defensive back Kevin Vaccaro, and returning sixth year player Sheroid Evans.
Burt talks deep threats and Olympics
Sophomore wide receiver John Burt has plenty of friends and a few Texas teammates currently in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics. While that is something he aspires to, it is not something he sees himself missing out on right now.
“Not really this year, it being my first year in college and getting used to the height of the hurdles,” Burt said. “I’m getting ready for the next one.”
The running for football this summer and fall is similar to Burt’s track running: lots of straight lines without much deviation. For Burt, that is just how he likes it.
“I like how a lot of the routes are vertical,” Burt said. “A guy with my speed likes to get down the field so that’s one of the things I really like about this new offense. It gets a lot of our different play makers the ball. I really feel like this offense is really going to be something to look forward to.”
Burt said this offense will not only help him, a 6-foot-3 speedster on the outside, but all of the Longhorn receivers.
“I really feel like this offense is geared towards receivers of all sizes,” Burt said. “We can hit people deep outside, we can hit our smaller guys inside for big gains. That’s what this offense is all about. It’s all about moving the ball around, getting different guys the ball and creating opportunities later on for big plays.”
As far as who will get the ball to Burt, he thinks he has three great options to do that, including freshmen Shane Buechele.
“[Shane’s] a real good kid,” Burt said. “But Shane, Tyrone [Swoopes] and Jerrod [Heard] are all really good quarterbacks. When it comes time for the game, whoever’s in there I feel like the coaches will put the best person in there to get us the win.”
Vaccaro talks about the last ride
For senior defensive back Kevin Vaccaro, he realizes this is it for him as far as Texas football goes.
“This is my fifth year,” Vaccaro said. “It’s been pretty rough since I’ve been here. I’ve talked to Tim [Cole], and Caleb [Bluiett] and everyone else. We just want to go out with a great year.”
The two Vaccaro mentioned, as well as a handful of other players, are some of the last remaining players from the Mack Brown era. Vaccaro said they want to leave a strong legacy because of that.
“That whole group, we came in under coach Brown,” Vaccaro said. “We’re like ‘this is the last of that group.’” We want to make a huge impact on the season.”
To have a great season, the defense will need to have a major improvement from their record-setting season of the poor variety last year. On the field, Vaccaro knows exactly how that will happen.
“The mission is to be headhunters and lock everybody down,” Vaccaro said. “We have the freshmen, and they’re great athletes. For me, as a senior like Dylan [Haines] and Sheroid [Evans], we’ve been leading them pretty good and showing them the ropes, because it’s hard coming out as a freshman because you don’t know anything and you need someone to help you, and we’ve been doing that. I think they’re comfortable and they’re getting used to the way we practice. It’s coming along good.”
The team put pads on for the first time on Wednesday, and Vaccaro said there already have been a lot of collisions early in practice.
“I mean, everybody’s been hitting hard,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve been really aggressive, everyone has. And that’s been awesome, especially when we first got in pads to see everyone in pads just hitting everything.”
Vaccaro also talked about one of the players he now has to defend in a different way. For months, Inside Texas has reported that sophomore Jerrod Heard will move from quarterback to wide receiver. Vaccaro knows that switch, which has occurred in practice, will only help the team.
“It’s good seeing him on the field,” Vaccaro said. “He’s switching from quarterback to wide receiver. He’s an athlete, as everyone knows. He’s really fast and has the size. Today, he went at receiver a little bit and did pretty good. It’s good seeing us use him in a good way. I don’t know how exactly coach wants to use him. He might still be a QB depending on what we do each game.
Evans enjoying another opportunity
Senior Sheroid Evans is another one of the players who first came to Texas when Mack Brown was leading the team. Evans, now in his sixth year in the program, was just excited to see the media and even cracked a joke.
“This is my first one,” Evans said with a smile. “I’ve been here 10 years and this is my first one.”
Evans has stuck with football despite two major knee injuries. One is tough enough, and the first one was difficult.
“I never went through an injury like that,” Evans said. “I was a track guy, so I always had hamstring injuries and stuff like that. It was pretty devastating. I got my mind right and bounced back. I didn’t bounce back as quick as the second one, but I bounced back.”
Evans bounced back from the first one, and said those closest to him are what made him come back from the second one.
“Like I said, just talking to people,” Evans said. “I really wasn’t sure. After just having conversations with my friends, my mom, she’s like ‘you’ve been through so much. You can only go up from here.’”
Along with his family and friends, the head coach also wanted Evans on the field.
“I talked to coach Strong,” Evans said. “He was for it. Why not stay? He felt like I could help the team. Regardless of if it was special teams. Me, I wanted more of a role. I pushed myself to come back as healthy as I can.”
Hughes back bigger and ready for the season
Junior defensive end Naashon Hughes is now an ‘older guy’ on the defensive line, especially with all of the talent coming in. For Hughes, he knows he needs to help them get ready for the playing time they are competing for.
“As far as d-line, we’re getting those younger guys and all the recruits we got,” Hughes said. “We’re bringing them along, just showing them how to practice and how to handle game-like situations.”
Hughes said even among the many large men at his position, the new guys are able to move.
“They’re all fast,” Hughes said about the freshmen. “They’ve surprised me with the plays they make. They study hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them play.”
Hughes and the rest of the defense are looking to improve upon last year. He said they’ve worked on getting off of blocks and rushing the passer. In addition, they have worked on the details of tackling. Hughes said the entire defense goes through multiple drills based solely on tackling before entering team drills. They work on stripping the ball, reading the ball-carrier’s hips and wrapping up at the ankles. It is something he knows cost the team.
“We had a whole bunch of missed tackles,” Hughes said. “That probably led to a couple of losses.”
That is now in the past. Hughes is ready for the future.
“We all know what we have to do when the game opener comes through,” Hughes said. “We all have our mindset on that. As far as the defense, we’re trying to lead the team and establish more of a defensive mentality.”
Hughes put it even more simply: “If they don’t score, we win.”