The freshmen who will walk on the field at Notre Dame are unaware of the history surrounding their opponent. They’re oblivious to the Fighting Irish’s rich tradition. Nor do they know about their 882 wins. But under the gaze of Notre Dame’s ‘Touchdown Jesus,’ those Longhorn freshmen will have a chance to make an immediate mark on the Texas program.
Sixteen true freshmen are listed on the Longhorn depth chart, headlined by starting linebacker Malik Jefferson. Four other freshmen will start: left tackle Connor Williams, right guard Patrick Vahe, wide receiver John Burt and punter Michael Dickson. Head coach Charlie Strong said these players have earned the right to play with their hard work during the summer and in fall camp.
“If you’re talented enough, you can go get on the field, but let’s put [the freshmen] on the field,” Strong said. “That’s what we’ve done, and this is a freshmen group that has worked really hard, and they want to play… I’m really excited just to see how we’re going to play and how hard they’re going to play.”
This freshman group came in with a certain swagger to them. They’re confident and aren’t afraid to show it. Coming out of high school, they were part of a highly ranked recruiting class – Scout.com ranked the 2015 class at No. 7 in the nation.
The energy and confidence the freshmen came in with has sparked the locker room. When fall camp began in August, it wasn’t the upperclassmen jumping around and dancing during practice — it was the freshmen. Although they’re a confident group, they realize they have an opportunity to be part of something bigger than just a highly touted recruiting class.
“We are [very confident in ourselves],” Jefferson said at Texas’ media day in August. “But we know our role. We know what we’ve come here to do. [But] it’s not about us, it’s about the guys in front of us and Coach Strong. We want to do big things for those guys.”
While their attitude could come across as aggressive, the upperclassmen have brought them in with open arms. Junior safety Dylan Haines said he’s been helping the younger players adjust to the college game. He’s also tried to get the freshmen used to studying the playbook to help them learn the game better. Senior running back Johnathan Gray added that he’s surprised to see so many freshmen step up and ready to make an immediate impact on the field.
“Coming in as a freshman, for me, we definitely didn’t have that many guys, and this year, seeing those guys ready to play, learning the playbook faster than we did is exciting for me being a senior,” Gray said. “I know that those guys are willing and ready to put everything on the line for their teammates.”
As Texas prepares to play Notre Dame with an arsenal of freshmen, it knows it will rely heavily on it young players in 2015.
“Since they got here, they’ve been putting in the work, and they had the mindset they want to play early,” sophomore defensive tackle Poona Ford said. “They have the opportunity to, and we’re going to need them.”