Sam Ehlinger doesn’t regret his infamous, “Longhorn Nation, we’re back!” proclamation at the 2019 Sugar Bowl. The senior quarterback was able to learn from it, he said in a Tuesday teleconference.
“It’s one of those things that I’ll look back at and be like, ‘That was pretty funny,’” Ehlinger said. “I was still a teenager, so you can expect something like that from a teenager, but it was a great learning moment from me. … Now, would I do it again? Probably not.”
Texas isn’t “back” by any means. It finished 8–5 the next season and momentarily slipped out of the AP Top 25 rankings this season after losing to Oklahoma. But there’s no doubt Ehlinger will leave the program in better shape than he found it.
The Longhorns were coming off two of their worst back-to-back seasons in school history when Ehlinger arrived in the spring of 2017. Head coach Tom Herman had just been hired from the University of Houston and didn’t have a spectacular recruiting class. Only six of Texas’ 17 commits were rated as four-star or higher recruits.
“We came in as a class that wasn’t super highly recruited,” senior center Derek Kerstetter said in a Tuesday teleconference. “We weren’t just all big-name guys. A lot of us have come in and played. I think that was something special, just seeing we really wanted to see each other be successful, and we came in with our heads down. (We) didn't care what people said about us.”
Although Herman’s tenure at Texas hasn’t been the return to glory Longhorn fans hoped for, the program is in significantly better shape than it was when this year’s senior class first arrived.
Texas will finish above .500 for the fourth consecutive season this year, something it hasn’t done since it last played for a national championship in 2009. This year’s seniors will be Texas’ first recruiting class not to experience a single losing season since 2006 and likely the first to make four straight bowl games since 2011.
The Longhorns still control their own destiny to the Big 12 Championship game, but they’re out of games to lose. Texas’ only remaining path to Arlington is to win out the remainder of its schedule –– Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas.
Ehlinger said it’s fitting for his senior season, possibly the wildest one in college football history, to wind down with the Longhorns preparing for a senior day Top 25 matchup with Big 12-leading Iowa State on Black Friday.
“I think over the last four years, as a program, we've been through just about everything,” Ehlinger said. “The highs, the lows, adversity, close games, not-close games, just really every possible scenario. Adversity on and off the field, just a lot of different things. I think it's only fitting of everything that's gone on (for the season to come to this), and I wouldn't want it any other way.”