The Texas football program has many questions to answer heading into its season opener. How will the cornerbacks perform? Can they survive with only two running backs? Will this team live up to expectations?
There’s one thing that has a definitive answer. Every player has bought in.
This is a team that has fully bought into the identity and values head coach Tom Herman has brought to the program.
All five captains spoke Tuesday. Each expressed the importance of “controlling what they can control,” a phrase Herman has continuously expressed during his tenure.
“We as players, (have been told) by the coaches to control what we can control,” said senior safety Brandon Jones when asked about the targeting rules in place.
Senior wide receiver Collin Johnson expressed the same sentiment when asked about his chances of winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award, an award given to the nation’s top wide receiver during the year.
“That’s not something I’m focused on,” Johnson said. “Obviously that’s a dream for any receiver, but you have to just focus on what you can control … I’m just going to work my tail off, and I always say, ‘Be the best Collin Johnson I can be.’”
This focus and buy-in aren’t traits found only in captains. Freshman quarterback Roschon Johnson has also shown his willingness to buy-in. With the recent injuries to Kirk Johnson and Daniel Young, the freshman has been practicing as a running back for emergency situations.
According to senior offensive lineman Zach Shackelford, Roschon stood up in front of the team when he had the red stripe taken off his helmet and said, “‘I’ll do anything for you guys. I’ll play any position. Just put me on the field. I want to play. I want to help.’”
That moment helped Johnson gain respect in the locker room. And in the short time he’s played the position, he has already impressed.
“He’s done a tremendous job. What a selfless dude,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “He’s a freak athlete. He knows the offense well … I’ve been very proud of him.”
Part of the “buying in” process is being able to focus on internal affairs, something that has gotten harder as the noise outside gets louder. And the noise has been loud.
Texas is ranked No. 10 in the nation and has a large amount of hype surrounding it. Following the Sugar Bowl win in January, the program’s stock rose exponentially. However, it has its doubters at the same time. The Longhorns are coming into the season with back-to-back season-opening losses in 2018 and 2017, both to Maryland. With the season starting this weekend, the debate surrounding which version of Texas will show up has grown.
“It’s hard not to listen to,” Shackelford said. “Our guys figured out it doesn’t really matter what our preseason poll is (because) you go out there and can lose it on a second.”