Like this season, this year’s senior class has had its ups and downs.
Texas will celebrate Senior Night this weekend, recognizing 26 players who have spent four years playing football at the 40 Acres, who have amassed a 39-12 record over those four seasons and how will play their final home game Saturday.
In this year’s senior class’ first two seasons, the Longhorns had shots to capture a national title but didn’t run the table.
Then, they were part of a team that delivered a disappointing 5-7 season but are trying to leave the program on a good note.
“This senior class has given us a lot of great plays,” said head coach Mack Brown. “They were second in the country, they were third in the country and had a chance to win the national championship. I want the fans to come out and give them a great send-off.”
Senior Night is always a meaningful moment, but facing a team that it hasn’t beaten since 2003 and who triumphed over the Longhorns 39-14 last season should provide even more motivation. The Wildcats derailed Texas’ BCS bowl hopes in 2006 and 2007 and helped keep the Longhorns from playing in the postseason at all in 2010.
“That’s probably the biggest slap in the face to any football player, any defensive football player — that a team is more physical than you,” Gideon said. “We made it a point that if nothing else goes right this week, we’re not going to be outhit and we’re going to be the most physical team on the field.”
Emotions won’t just be running high because Texas could be trying to get back at a team that has had its number over the last few years. There will also be a more sentimental feel to the festivities Saturday night when the seniors are acknowledged.
Emmanuel Acho, one of the four seniors on the first-team defense, is coming off a spectacular showing against Missouri, albeit in a losing effort. The senior linebacker made 12 tackles, four for loss, notched two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks to end a Missouri opening drive that saw the Tigers get past the Longhorns’ 10-yard line. Acho will be looking to have a similar performance tomorrow.
“I remember when I first got here,” Acho said. “In my last [home] game, I’ll hope to end it with a bang. It’s going to be fun.”
Another senior on defense, Blake Gideon, has been the epitome of the roller-coaster ride this year’s senior class has been riding. He is the only member of the class to start every game Texas has played since he stepped on campus. But his freshman year was marred by a dropped interception in the fourth quarter of a loss to Texas Tech, Texas’ lone defeat of the season. Gideon, however, has been a staple of Texas’ secondary for the last four years and has had his moments, including logging eight tackles against top-ranked Oklahoma his freshman year, notching an interception in the 2010 national title game against Alabama and racking up 250 tackles over his career.
“[Acho] and I were talking about how back in ’08 against Florida Atlantic, both of us were jogging out on the field looking at each other coming out of the tunnel,” Gideon recalled. “We were two scared freshmen then and what we’ve developed into today, the highs and lows through four years, it really has flown by.”
This year’s Longhorns squad is a young one as seniors occupy just over one-third of the starting slots on the depth chart.
Eleven seniors are currently on the two-deep, six fewer than the number of true freshmen. The underclassmen will be looking to send the seniors off right.
“It’d only be right for them to go out with a win, so we’ll be playing our heart out for them,” said sophomore defensive back Carrington Byndom. “We’re just looking to go out and get a win, not only for Senior Night, but for the team in general. That seventh win is all we’re looking for.”
It will be tough to make the seniors’ last home game a win with Kansas State rolling into Austin, not just because of their history against Texas. The Wildcats are 6-5 all-time against the Longhorns, making them the only Big 12 team with a winning record in their series with Texas. But Kansas State, coming off a 53-50, quadruple-overtime victory over Texas A&M last weekend, is likely overflowing with confidence. But Texas will certainly try to make the most of the last opportunity its seniors have to play in front of the 100,000-plus, burnt orange-clad they’ve grown accustomed to playing for.
“It’ll flash before me: Those four years and what I’ve been through,” said Gideon. “Seeing my parents and hearing my name called, I’m sure there’s going to be a little emotion, but at the same time, there’s a game to be played.”