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Entering his fourth year as the head coach at Texas, Tom Herman knows 2020 marks an important juncture for his program. The entire roster is comprised of players Herman recruited save for Chris Brown, Denzel Okafor, and Tope Imade. It has senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger in addition to several highly rated players from Herman’s 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes set to play key roles in 2020.
“We’ve all circled this year a little bit to where the snowball gets rolling downhill a little bit for us,” Herman told the Touchdown Club of Houston on July 23.
Ehlinger isn’t the only key player Herman mentioned as having a crucial role this year, though his leadership and experience under Herman is a big reason for his confidence. On offense, junior Sam Cosmi and senior Derek Kerstetter return along the offensive line.
On defense, Herman mentioned members of the “much ballyhooed” class of 2018 including juniors Caden Sterns, BJ Foster, and Joseph Ossai. “All those guys are now going to be third-year guys,” Herman said.
This is a season Herman believes could be one of his best, and one he believes will still happen. Herman couldn’t reveal specific numbers, but last week he mentioned positive test numbers were “almost non-existent at this point.” His boss, athletics director Chris Del Conte, announced Wednesday there were no active COVID-19 infections among football players.
That statistic is helped by Longhorn players’ distancing measures. Herman said everyone in the program is constantly wearing a mask. Only one person is permitted at a weight rack at a time. Players are five yards apart when running. Even during one-on-one drills, Herman said players wear masks.
“Hey, we know you’re a Division I college football player at an enormous place like the University of Texas, so your life is never going to be normal,” Herman said. “You’re going to be asked to do things and wake up at times nobody in America at your age is, oh and by the way, now we’ve got a global pandemic going on so we’re going to tighten the screws even more. Our kids have handled it. It’s been quite an adjustment.”
Those adjustments are in addition to the offseason changes to his coaching staff that brought two new coordinators to Austin. Herman admitted the lack of spring practice made his defensive install a little more difficult.
But that’s not a problem unique to his program. Herman said he had conversations with other coaches like Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, and Baylor’s Dave Aranda throughout the pandemic. Most of those conversations involved bouncing ideas off each other just to see what works.
Those conversations have led to a specific conclusion.
“I tell our coaches all the time if we plan anything beyond two to three weeks, we’re wasting brain cells,” Herman said.
Texas coaches now get 20 hours per week with their players. Herman said Thursday that is divided up into six hours of meetings, eight hours of lifting and running, and six hours of walk-throughs.
They continue to prepare for the season, one Herman wants to have happen, but he knows the decision isn’t his to make. He said he’ll rely on orders from public health officials, university health officials, school presidents, athletic directors, and conference commissioners. With the information he has, that means continuing to prepare for a football game on September 5.
If that football game happens, Herman believes it could be the start of something special for the Longhorn program.
“As long as we continue to recruit and develop at the level that we have since we’ve been here, I think you’re going to start to see seasons more like we anticipate in 2020,” Herman said.