Before Sam Ehlinger was beloved by Texas fans for his heroics on the biggest stages, the Longhorn quarterback was a 6 foot, 1 inch, 207-pound high school kid who broke Drew Brees’ and Nick Foles’ records at Westlake High School.
But what made Ehlinger the high school star who broke the records of two Super Bowl MVPs? His size? His natural leadership? His physical and mental toughness? His former teammates, coaches and opponents all noticed these traits, but said that, above all, they recognized Ehlinger was just “built different.”
Urban studies senior Barrett Chambers is one of Ehlinger’s childhood friends and former teammates. He said playing tackle football against the Texas quarterback was only fair until about the fourth grade. The moment Chambers noticed Ehlinger was not just physically but mentally tough was when Ehlinger’s father passed away.
“When his dad passed away when we were in middle school, we kind of noticed that this dude was a leader, and he was just built different,” Chambers said. “You hear his mom describe him as her rock throughout the whole thing. I rarely saw him shed a tear over it. He didn’t want to show any weakness for his family.”
Former Westlake coach Jeff Rhoads noticed Ehlinger’s talent and natural leadership ability months later when he scouted him for the first time at Hill Country Middle School.
Two years later, Rhoads, then the head coach at Anderson High School, experienced just how special Ehlinger proved to be when he game-planned against the teenage quarterback. Even after coaching Ehlinger for a season at Westlake, Rhoads said he didn’t feel like he had any sort of competitive advantage going against him.
“He played the game like a linebacker, he could run the ball like a running back and he could drop the ball downfield,” Rhoads said. “One thing you might try to do is get him on the ground, but that’s about the only way you’re going to slow Sam Ehlinger down, is when he’s laying on the ground. And that’s hard to do because he’s going to get back up.”
Westlake beat Anderson 48-7 and 73-10 in Rhoads’ two years coaching against Ehlinger.
But Anderson wasn’t the only team the future Texas star beat up in his high school career. He crushed the dreams of United High School from Laredo, Texas, in the third round of the playoffs a year later, something rhetoric and writing senior Austin Aleman still remembers.
Aleman, a defensive end for United in 2016, said he probably spent at least 15 hours watching film on Ehlinger that week and immediately compared him to Tim Tebow. United held Ehlinger and Westlake to 10 points for a quarter before the game got out of hand. United ultimately lost 55-15 and allowed 38 points in the first half.
“(Ehlinger) was a beast, and it was his perfect element,” Aleman said. “You see good football players, and then you see guys that are just different. And he was obviously having fun with it. I remember trying to rush up to him to tackle him, and I just saw him smile and just run down the field.”
But for Aleman, he had some solace in knowing that bigger and brighter football stages awaited Ehlinger.
“Overall, it was just fun to see that I could compete with Sam,” Aleman said. “At least this guy is going to Texas.”