I spent a few days in Austin, Texas, in preparation for my sideline assignment on Thanksgiving night for the Texas Tech-Texas game on FS1. Tech beat UT in Austin for the first time in 18 years and the loss assured Texas (4-7) of a losing season.
However, there are plenty of reasons for optimism inside the Longhorns football program. The biggest: UT is starting six true freshmen — twice as many as anyone else in the Big 12. One of those six, who had his breakout performance against the Red Raiders, is bruising 235-pound RB Chris Warren. He ran for 276 yards and four TDs while averaging 11 yards per carry. It was an awesome showing. It was even more remarkable if you’d seen how banged up UT was that night with players seemingly going down and ending up on the training table on their sideline every other play. In all, Texas lost five starters that night — starting QB Jerrod Heard (a redshirt freshman), two defensive tackles and two linebackers.
One of those linebackers was the headliner of Charlie Strong’s stellar freshman class, Malik Jefferson. He made two terrific plays before going down with an ankle injury. The day before the game UT coaches gushed about Jefferson. Not just his athleticism but also his maturity and how much he’s grown in every single game.
I asked Strong about who he felt like his leaders were going to be as he continues a big rebuilding job. “He will be That Guy,” Strong said, before offering some very lofty praise in football speak. “Malik is a Dude."
UT’s other gem in this rookie class is actually a former three-star recruit, Connor Williams, a one-time tight end primed to be a star left tackle. He’s started the entire year for Texas. Veteran O-line coach Joe Wickline calls the 6-foot-5, 283-pounder “a throwback” who also has rare physical talent.
"His flexibility and change of direction is excellent,” said Wickline. "He’s quick-twitch. He’s also really sharp. His understanding from a schematic standpoint is beyond his years. He has a big upside.”
Williams, who arrived at UT last winter, is pretty sharp off the field too. He told me he needed to maintain a 3.5 GPA to get accepted into the McCombs School of Business. He’s carrying a 3.67. The other stud freshman O-lineman is guard Patrick Vahe, who was sidelined for the Tech game, but had the Red Raiders coaches very impressed with what they’d seen on film. These two are a good bet to snap UT’s mind-boggling drought of not having an O-lineman drafted since Tony Hills in 2008.