Longhorns need to learn from Malik Jefferson’s attitude

Jori Epstein

Texas’ freshman class ranked No. 9 in the nation. The team touted ample talent and the freshmen have stepped up on the field and in the locker room. Eleven of them played defense against Iowa State last week. But with the Longhorns’ record at 3-5, rumors spread about players transferring. Freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, a five-star recruit, dispelled them.    

“We’re committed to this school,” Jefferson said. “I’ve never heard anyone say they’re leaving. As far as I know, we’re happy.”

Jefferson and his classmates speak constantly about their class’s potential. They encourage one another on the field and work to learn from experienced veterans. The newcomers’ mentality is admirable; their long-term devotion helpful. But the freshmen – and all Texas players – need to stop focusing on a long-term rebuild. They need to focus on winning now.

“We can’t sleep on Kansas and can’t sleep on the rest of our opponents,” redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard said. “We have to come out and give 100 percent every day and get to this bowl game.”    

In their 24-0 loss to Iowa State last weekend, the Longhorns weren’t focused and committed. Players say they didn’t stick to fundamentals and techniques. Head coach Charlie Strong said they didn’t execute the game plan. Reasons for the shutout span far and broad – from Jefferson’s food poisoning to stagnant quarterback action to a hyped Iowa State team playing its heart out for homecoming. Still, the loss was embarrassing. And Texas needs to reboot to avoid losing recruits.    

Jefferson is the perfect player to lead a turnaround. He balances leadership with humility – “I lead by not stepping on anyone’s toes…so in the future I can be right” – and plays with heart. He registered six tackles last week even with an upset stomach. He says he admires Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant’s passion.    

“I like that example,” Jefferson said. “He’s passionate about what he does and shows his passion and frustration.”

Jefferson, too, shows his teammates his passion. He communicates more through nonstop effort on the field than he does with vocal interchanges in the locker room, but his passion is evident. He knows that’s not enough. Texas enters this weekend’s matchup as 29-point favorites against the Jayhawks. And yet Jefferson won’t assert that his team can’t lose. 

His only reply: “We shouldn’t.”    

Texas showed its knack for rising to the occasion against Oklahoma and Kansas State. But it played down to Iowa State’s level last week, justifying the Cyclones’ decision to schedule Texas as their homecoming game – which Jefferson said was “disrespectful.”    

Texas must commit to focusing this week and playing its own game. With this rollercoaster season, the Longhorns know that no win is sure. Strong said the team has an extra chip on its shoulder.    

“You’re always going to get [an opponent’s] best because of who we are,” Strong said. “You don’t just walk out there with University of Texas on chest and people bow down to you. They’re not going to bow down to you.”    

Instead, Texas must rise to the occasion.