The Boys of Summer

KANSAS CITY — If Texas stands head-and-shoulder pads above all Big 12 foes by December, it will largely result from the foundation that Longhorns say has already been laid this summer.
Players and coaches continue to emphasize the importance of voluntary summer workouts to a team’s success, not just in terms of establishing the timing between quarterbacks and receivers but also the chemistry between teammates. How important is it? Texas did not enter two-a-days the past two seasons with the kind of team chemistry that was evident on the two Rose Bowl teams, head coach Mack Brown observed on a number of occasions. Although consecutive 10-3 seasons is no reason for Gabriel to blow his horn, it was the team’s uninspired and underachieving effort in last season’s losses that resulted in a greater commitment to intangibles such as camaraderie and the type of family atmosphere that Brown stressed. If players don’t know each other on week days, some said, then they don’t trust each other on Game Day.

Brown met with team leaders Colt McCoy, Brian Orakpo and Quan Cosby for supper Tuesday night during the annual Big 12 Conference Football Media Days.

“They said the workouts were at least the best we’ve had since 2005,” Brown reported. “They said that Coach (Jeff) Madden, our strength coach, has really pushed them hard.”

Last summer, Texas players were about as likely to become familiar with each other through an arrest report than on a practice field. Since then, a program that uncharacteristically had 11 athletes run afoul of the law between the BCS national championship game and late last summer has not had single player in legal trouble during this offseason.

“I can’t say enough about how good our spring was and how good this summer has been” said QB Colt McCoy. “We’ve been practicing seven-on-sevens. We’ve had conditioning workouts. And nobody has missed. Our team is closer now. We’re playing together more than we ever have since I’ve been here. We’re hanging out, on and off the field. We’re staying out of trouble. We’ve seen a lot of good things. Hopefully, we’ll see that carry over into the season.”

The fact that McCoy enters his third season as the undisputed starting quarterback is a tremendous asset, given the simple fact that leadership is typically expected from his position. It was nearly impossible for McCoy to flex a leadership muscle two summers ago when Texas returned no starting QB with game-day experience. A couple of critical injuries in 2007 — SE Limas Sweed and DE Brian Orakpo — robbed Texas of natural leaders on both sides of the ball.

“When you’ve played for two years,” McCoy told Inside Texas, “you’re going to be in a leadership position right there. There’s a lot of young talent coming in, looking up to somebody and looking to somebody. It’s easy to be in that leadership position. I’ve grown so much and we have a great group of seniors. Most of the seniors we have right now have played for three years. They young guys coming in look up to them. They think, ‘Wow, they’ve played for two or three years. They know what it’s like.’ We’ve taken everybody under our wing and have just come together. That’s going to become more important the closer we get to the season and especially when we enter the season.”

and K-State The team’s general lack of passion and urgency — not only in losses to A&M but also in close calls against Arkansas State, Central Florida and Oklahoma State — was so personally disappointing to Orakpo that he vowed to serve this summer as a mentor for young players and as a de facto social chairman for all current Horns.

“I’ve taken guys under my wing,” said Orakpo. “A lot of the new guys are homesick. They want to be home with their families. They aren’t seeing their moms or dads as much, so we (upperclassmen) have to show these younger guys that we’re here for them. We want them to know that we’re just like them and we’re not here to hurt them. We helped them to see it’s not that bad being on your own for the first time. A lot of the older guys and myself have tried to really help them. We’re all friends and we’re all family.”

There was a noted lack of vocal leadership the past two seasons. Part of the reason, coaches said, was that former seniors like Sweed and DT Frank Okam were quieter, lead-by-example types. Now, several of the underclassmen have started to assume leadership roles, Okam noted.

“We have more guys who are being more vocal,” Orakpo said. “The guys are more comfortable with each other. You can already see the transition from where we used to be and where we are now. It really helps our camaraderie and that can really help us this year.”

August Camps is slated to begin August 3.