Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe don’t garner many headlines.
While the off-season has been filled with stories on Texas’ quarterback battle and Charlie Strong’s attempts to revive the program, the linchpins of the Longhorn line have been moved to the back burner.
But don’t let the lack of attention lessen the impact Williams and Vahe have on the Longhorn attack. Both were named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team, and both started ten or more games as freshman. Despite being underclassmen, Williams and Vahe now provide some much-needed experience to a group teeming with freshman.
“The things that are invaluable is having game experience,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “And both of those guys carry that having them play last year as two true freshmen.”
Williams and Vahe are set to anchor the left side of Texas’ line in 2016. Vahe will make the switch from right guard to left guard, while Williams will be tasked with protecting the quarterback’s blind side at left tackle. And although the two work in unison, they are a study in contrasts.
Their differences began in the recruiting process — with Vahe the No. 2 center and Williams just the No. 44 offensive tackle according to the 247Sports Composite. However, those rankings were ultimately little more than February fodder. Upon entering fall camp, both had secured their place on the starting line.
The two linemen clicked quickly, using each other’s styles to fuel a Texas rushing attack that ranked No. 17 in yards per game in 2015.Williams impressed with his quick feet and fluid athleticism, Vahe took to bulldozing defenders, and both created ample running room for the Texas backfield. They look to bring their contrasting styles together on the left side of the line this year.
“We both have different ways of playing the game and we try to put it together in unison,” Vahe said. “If we’re trying to double team on one player, we try to make sure that our steps are there and that we can execute the play and make sure that we score.”
The accolades rolled in for the duo in 2015. Williams ended the season as the only freshman lineman to receive a positive overall grade from Pro Football Focus, and was named a first-team freshman All-American alongside Vahe.
However, Texas limped to 5–7 record despite Williams and Vahe’s individual success. The Longhorns spent Bowl Season at home for just the second time in 18 seasons, leaving a bad taste in the team’s mouth.
“Oh yeah, it leaves a burn,” Williams said. “We all want to prove everybody wrong and go out and have a good season.”
The Longhorns have plenty of question marks heading into opening night on Sept. 4. The Notre Dame defensive line is heralded as one of the best in the nation, one head coach Charlie Strong deemed, “the most physical front four that we’ll face all season long.”
But Williams and Vahe aren’t fazed.
“I’m hoping that [fans] see a different team from last season,” Vahe said. “We’ve progressed and hopefully they can enjoy the show.”