FRISCO, TX — During last year’s Big 12 Media Days, Texas head coach Tom Herman spoke about changing the culture and establishing a foundation for not only winning, but building championship teams before his first season on the 40 Acres. His savvy, smart demeanor exuded confidence that he was the right man to right the ship known as Texas Football.
In his second season at the helm in Austin, his Longhorns appear ready to take the next step with a talent-laden squad that returns double-digit starters and welcomes a “historic Top 5 recruiting class for 2018.” He’s keeping expectations to a minimum but there was a twinkle of mischief in Herman’s eyes on Tuesday. Like he knows that Year Two could, and should, be better than last year’s 7-6 team that knocked off Missouri in the Texas Bowl. We spoke with Herman twice this week. Here’s what he said…
What did you think of (junior WR) Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s poem?
“I was proud of him. I was proud of him for expressing his feelings. I spoke to him. It was an assignment for an American Literature class, to which he was assigned to write something about your feelings. He wrote it and felt like he wanted to post and share it. I support him. That’s the beauty of social media.”
What are you wanting to see out of each of these quarterbacks once fall ball begins?
“Continued development. The challenge is still the same. I’ve been very forthcoming in what we challenge both those guys (Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele) to do. We just need to see more of it, we need to see it consistently, and at the end of the day – and we dealt with this at Ohio State with Cardale (Jones) and J.T. (Barrett) when Braxton (Miller) went down – that you protect the football, and does the offense put the ball across the goal line. That’s it. Completion percentage is great, long ball this, leadership that, and all that…are you protecting the football, are you managing the game, and does the ball cross the end zone more times than not.”
Have you spoke to Ehlinger about possibly sliding more or getting out of bounds quicker, and not some much of the head-on collisions with linebackers and DBs?
“Yeah…you tell him that certainly. But there’s just something in those guys – the Tim Tebows, Cam Newtons, JT Barretts – just those physical runners. You try to educate them, but when it’s in your DNA, it’s very hard. Are you going to see him slide? Probably not. Are you going to see him step out of bounds rather than lower the shoulder on a guy? I hope so, but I don’t ever think you’re going to see him just slide. I mean, I can tell him to, but I don’t know that that’s going to happen. We talk about it, but it’s easier said than done.”
In a perfect world, do you want to have a starting quarterback by Week 1 and be able to stick to that one person?
“If that one person is playing winning football. Every coach would want someone to separate themselves. In my opinion, coaches don’t choose quarterbacks, they choose themselves by things we just talked about – moving the football, protecting the football, and scoring points. In an ideal world, you’d like to have that decision made before the first week, certainly.”
What are the clear-cut strengths of your team that you can count on all season?
“Certainly the defense. We return quite a few players, a lot of seniors, and I know that’s kind of odd considering we’re losing the Thorpe Award finalist, Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and the Defensive Lineman of the Year, but we do feel like we’ve got some quality depth there, some quality young players, especially in the secondary. And if Chris Nelson and other guys can pickup some of the slack from the loss of Poona Ford, then I feel we have a good chance at being just as good if not better in some areas.”
“Respect the plan. They can like me off the field, and I think a lot of them do. I think there’s four examples here – Vahe, Nelson, Beck, and Hager – if you ask ‘do you like coach Herman’, I imagine the answer would be yes. But you asked do they need to and the answer is no. They don’t need to like me or like the coaches. Just like a kid doesn’t need to like his parent, he needs to respect his parent. Respect the rules and expectations that the parent has set. In fact, when I’m asked to use a word to describe your program, I use the word ‘parental’ quite a bit. Meaning we’re going to shower you with unconditional love, we’re going to give you every tool and resource and education on the face of the planet in order to help you succeed. But we’re also going to hold you to some very, very high standards, and we’re going to hold you accountable if those standards aren’t met. Any good parent would say the same thing.”
When Herman was asked about the new incoming running backs, freshman Keaontay Ingram and California grad transfer Tre Watson, he remarked there’s some nervous anticipation, but quickly mentioned that there are a group of guys that have busted their tails off to develop and he thinks they have. He said every single guy in that room has developed, aside from Kirk Johnson, who makes it tough to tell because he hasn’t played football in so long. Daniel Young, Toneil Carter, Kyle Porter, and Tristan Houston were mentioned as guys that have developed and gotten better. He said ideally you wouldn’t want seven running backs on scholarship, but that’s where they are right now. He said he’s excited about Ingram and Watson, but equally excited to see the development of the guys returning for another season.
With the inside zone-style running game that Herman demands, a guy like Ingram, the highest rated running back in Texas last year and an Under Armour All-American, fits this scheme like a glove. His ability to watch his blockers, wait for the hole, plant and accelerate through the crease is something he did while leading Carthage to back-to-back 4A state championships. It’s only a matter of time, development, and experience before Ingram flourishes in this offense. This is also where a guy like running backs coach Stan Drayton is most beneficial. There’s a reason his resume stands out above all others in the ball-carrier department.
How much has (sophomore DL) Ta’Quon Graham improved in the offseason?
“Quite a bit. Ta’Quon spent the majority of the spring playing nose guard because we wanted our best three defensive linemen on the field, which for us was Breckyn Hager, Charles Omenihu, and Graham. That’s not where he’ll play most of the time this fall, but we thought it was good for a young guy to kind of get beat up a little bit inside, get muscled around a little bit from centers and guards, then he can transition back out to the defensive end spot from spending a little spring inside. He did a really good job.”
Can you name one offensive player and one defensive player that really stood out, opened your eyes, and bought in this Spring?
“That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. No, but I can give you a bunch. On defense, I can tell you Brandon Jones is a guy that sticks out on defense. Malcolm Roach played weakside LB at 270-something pounds the entire spring, and was probably the Defensive MVP of the spring. Breckyn Hager, Kris Boyd, and Davante Davis all got better. I think those three young DBs – BJ Foster, Caden Sterns, and Anthony Cook – are going to be rock stars when it’s their turn. On offense, Collin Johnson got better, LJ Humphrey got better; the kid is a like a Swiss Army knife. He can do just about everything. It was great to have Andrew Beck back, as well as Reese Leitao played in his first real collegiate action at 250 pounds had a good spring. Elijah Rodriguez had a good spring. Patrick Vahe had his best practices since I’ve been around. There’s a lot to go around.”
What positions are up in the air that will be battles in the fall?
“If you’re a DB, I don’t care what classification you are, you better bring your ‘A’ game every practice. It’s like Michael Huff said about their secondary back then. They had two Thorpe Award winners, three 1st rounders, and a 2nd rounder. The talent was silly. Certainly left tackle, and need to find a right guard (of the left tackles, he mentioned Denzel Okafor and Calvin Anderson). At right guard, Patrick Hudson, and depending on what we do with Elijah Rodriguez, and what we do at the center spot.”
What’s your plan on utilizing the new redshirt Rule?
“In preliminary talks, you’re probably going to save that redshirt rule until the end of the season, when you start getting depleted and injuries. Then you’ve got to get strategic too because the bowl games, the playoff games, the conference championship games count as well. When and how you use them is going to be a chess match. A lot of that will be determined in the first few weeks of training camp, because again, we haven’t seen these kids play in pads.”
What are your expectations with freshman DeMarvion Overshown (Arp, 2018) and what do you think Coach Orlando is cooking up for him?
“I think you’ll see him start in the Lightning package as the Joker – the boundary, weakside, drop-down safety, play on the line of scrimmage but yet play in the middle of the field, play the centerfield, play a Robber position as we like to call it – and we’ll just figure the rest out as his body continues to develop.”
Did you envision D’Shawn Jamison (Houston Lamar, 2018) as a receiver when you recruited him or is this a new development?
“I think we saw him as a ‘wherever we need him kind of guy.’ Tremendous athlete, he’s shown ability in the return game with the ball in his hands in high school, and he’s going to play both sides. We’ve already updated the roster, he’s going to play on both sides. He gives us something that maybe we don’t have at (slot) position. We’ve been playing LJ and Jerrod (Heard), who are bigger guys but not quite the explosion and straight-line speed that D’Shawn has, so we’re going to see if he can help us there. And if not, we’ll continue to train him at defensive back.”
What does Gary Johnson bring to this defense, and what does he mean to this team?
“He brings speed, toughness, he will hit you and he enjoys hitting people. It’s not something you have to convince him to do, it’s something in his DNA. And then the kids love him because he goes to work everyday, he’s fun – always has a smile on his face – he doesn’t care if its 110 degrees and the third hour of practice, he’s going to smile and be energetic, and be going as fast and as hard as he can.”
This is portion where we segue into the Breckyn Hager Experience. He compared Hager to the character Steve Lattimer from “The Program”, the epitome of intensity mixed with a side of crazy. Not only did the senior Longhorn DL/OLB win the evening at Big 12 Media Days, Herman went into detail about their relationship and what’s to come.
At what point did you figure out Breckyn Hager?
“Still figuring it out, brother. (Hager) was very resistant at first. Breckyn and I had a couple very intense conversations early in the season, and we were to the point where he was playing well, but it was more ‘you don’t talk to me, and I won’t talk to you,’ kind of thing. His heart is about that big (Herman points to his entire chest), and he’s so proud, and he loves Texas so much. So we’re playing Oklahoma State, and he sacks the quarterback, think on 3rd down, and as he’s running off the field, I gave him a little low-five as he was coming off the field. Might’ve been the first high-five I’d ever given him, and he just stopped dead in his tracks, like something out of a movie. And he looks at me and says….
BH: “Coach, I’m sorry.” (Herman says he looks on the field for a flag or late penalty)
TH: “Breckyn, what are you talking about?”
BH: “I’m sorry for being such an a–hole. I love you coach.”
TH: “Alright, Breck, I got a game to coach here, bud.”
….ever since then we’re like Bonnie and Clyde. He’s been championing the way we do things ever since. Here we are, nine months later, and he’s here representing us at Big 12 Media Days. It’s a great story. He went from being compliant – yes sir, no sir, never late – to ‘I’m just going to attack this thing.’ It was fun to watch that transformation. That is real. That’s not an act. That’s not for show. That’s the way his circuits are wired.”
Hager started his career at Texas at middle linebacker, which then he transitioned to a guy with his hand in the ground. What led you to believe that is where he’d succeed, and how have you seen him develop that skill to where he’s now physically prepared?
“The biggest thing was…1) when he first got here, he wasn’t heavy enough to play against an offensive tackle. 2) He could go three plays and needed to take himself out of the game. His stamina was awful. But he worked his tail off to his credit. He did have that great first step. 3) But now that first step is accompanied with tremendous leg strength and upper body strength at 255-260 pound frame with great stamina. He couldn’t survive until his body transformed the way it did.”
Whose idea was it when the 10th assistant became official and you sent Bryan Carrington, one of your big-time recruiting analysts on the road, and just the impact he’s had with recruiting and working along side Derek Chang and those guys?
“I think it was Derek Chang’s idea. He had asked me to hold off (hiring right away), knowing the state of Texas process of getting somebody hired and cleared and background checked, and all of that stuff would take awhile. He said hold off a little bit and we’ll put Bryan on the road. We’ll get him into some homes and it worked out great. Bryan does a great job relating to young kids, obviously because of his age, he’s from Texas and from Houston, but he also does a very good job of developing, not just between the player and him, but the recruits and other recruits. He gets the parents and recruits together, he forms these bonds that allow these guys to have a sense of pride.”
As Herman and the Longhorns wrapped up another eventful Big 12 Media Days, it was noticeable that Herman is confident he’s got the ship headed in the right direction.
“Our theme this offseason has been two words: develop and finish,” said Herman. “I just want to let you know that we are really excited about this season. Our culture is fully ingrained, our guys are in as good of shape as I’ve ever seem them. They’re hungry to compete in the Big 12.”