This post is meant to serve as a companion piece to PB's "My Guys" with a little different twist. Instead of looking at players who are break-out candidates, this list looks at my five favorite current 'Horns. Some of these guys are pretty obvious, but at the same time, all but one of them are seniors, so this is their last go 'round in the burnt orange and white -- that being the case, every moment that they spend on the field this season is precious, as their contributions to the program cannot be overstated.
My Fab Five:
- Colt McCoy, senior quarterback
- Jordan Shipley, senior receiver
- Sergio Kindle, senior linebacker/defensive end
- Lamarr Houston, senior defensive tackle
- Chykie Brown, junior cornerback
Colt McCoy, senior quarterback: Is there any question that he takes the top spot? The lightly-regarded, skinny kid from Tuscola is now Robo-QB, going whole practices without throwing an incomplete pass and waging an assault on the Texas record books that will inarguably place him in the pantheon of the greatest quarterbacks at Texas, ever. If Vince Young was the perfect quarterback to represent the urban side of Texas, McCoy is the perfect quarterback to represent the coutry side of Texas, that old-time part of the state still bemoaning the loss of ranch land and the defeat at the Alamo. In fact, what could be a better name for a Texas quarterback than Colt McCoy?
And needing only a 11-win season to break the all-time win record of 42 held by Georgia's David Greene and after breaking the NCAA completion-percentage record, McCoy lacks only a national championship to secure a legacy to rival Vince Young's. In fact, even without a national championship, McCoy deserves mention with Bobby Layne, James Street, and the immortal Young as the best Texas quarterbacks in the proud history of the program.
Bradford and Tebow both have their Heisman, now it's Colt's turn. As I told my friends hyping McCoy's Heisman candidacy last year at mid-season, if the Longhorns go undefeated, McCoy will win it. Once again, that seems to be the case, though the Longhorns will end the season having played their toughest games in October. If the voters can manage to recall that distant past by the time December roles around, Colt McCoy will finally win the Heisman that Texas quarterbacks have deserved for some time as long as the Texas record remains unblemished.
Speaking of those who deserved to win a Heisman, as much of a feel-good story as Vince Young was, rising from a tough situation in a tough part of Houston, Young's athletic ability was never in doubt. In some ways, McCoy's story is one of even greater triumph -- overcoming all those who questioned his ability as a college quarterback for any team, doubting his size and arm strength, his ability to run the football in the Texas offense designed for Vince Young. Even after a difficult sophomore season, people wondered if he could ever lead a good Texas team, arguing that his aw-shucks country charm could never connect with the urban players on the roster.
Not only has McCoy worked tirelessly in the weight room to become faster and stronger than anyone could have imagined when he stepped onto campus, but he's also become the unquestioned leader of the team, now drawing comparisons to Young as he commands the team in summer 7-on-7 workouts.
Once afraid to speak up in a huddle full of upperclassmen, his face is still boyish but now suffused with a confidence borne of success, the new and improved McCoy is a leader every bit the equal of Young. Not only that, but McCoy's humanity and grace are every bit the equal of the incredibly overexposed and overhyped Tim Tebow. As a pure quarterback, McCoy's accuracy and unending work in the filmroom bests both, while he more than holds his own in his ability to pick up yards with his feet and possesses greater speed than Tebow.
Colt McCoy impersonates Vince (via longhornbambam)
Yes, fellow Longhorn fans, just as you appreciated the greatness of Vince Young, stop and reflect upon the incredible journey of Colt McCoy through his five years in the program and savor every pass thrown with dart-like precision through a hole only McCoy knew existed. Every time he takes a hard hit and rises quickly, re-adjusting his helmet in his trademark fashion while returning to the huddle, remember the scrawny kid from 2006 and marvel at his physical transformation and unconquerable toughness. Soak it in when he throws another touchdown pass and punches the air in his celebratory ritual. When Texas finds itself behind, recall Nebraska and Texas Tech in 2006, Oklahoma State in 2007, Texas Tech again and Ohio State and that glorious afternoon in the Cotton Bowl last year and know that McCoy's steady hand will right the ship. And when he steps off the field at DKR for the last time as the clock winds down against Kansas, cheer for him until your throat feels raw and useless, because Colt McCoy has given everything he can to this Texas program.
Colt McCoy Highlights 2008 (via playray91)
Jordan Shipley, senior wide receiver: What could be more fitting for Shipley than to list him here, right after his childhood friend? It's been a roller coaster career for Jordan Shipley, now stretching into its sixth year. Accompanied to campus by massive expectations, Shipley promptly hurt himself. Then hurt himself again. By the time that he finally stepped onto the field as, essentially, a third-year freshman in 2006, the question morphed from wonderings about where Shipley would end up ranking among the Texas greats at the position to wondering whether he would ever contribute at all.
After a break-out junior season, the only question that remains is where Shipley's 2009 season will rank among the best efforts in Texas history. He already owns two of the greatest games in Longhorn history in terms of number of catches, including the top spot for his 15 catches against Oklahoma State last season. Now his father says that he is quicker and stronger than he has ever been, the latter reinforced by some pictures from the lake circulating on Facebook that provide all the evidence you need to determine that those guns you see on Saturdays are no joke. Colt has his own guns now, but Shipley is straight jacked. He'll need every bit of that strength to survive the punishing hits he will take in the controlled Texas passing game.
Much like his friend and roommate, Shipley deserves recognition for his incredible hard work and dedication as a Longhorn. Mack Brown has admitted on numerous occasions that he didn't know if Shipley would ever play again after suffering through his repeated injuries. Many lesser people would have given up, consoling themselves with the rationalization that they just weren't meant to play football. Not Shipley. Instead, he worked harder than ever to return.
Jordan Shipley's double move TD (via sessamoid)
So when Shipley burns another defender with his trademark double move, recall how close his football career came to ending. When he catches a ball in traffic and jukes a defender out of his cleats, now that this is the Shipley that those highlight plays at Burnet promised. Remember the game-changing returns for touchdowns against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Marvel at the mind-meld with his quarterback, each knowing the exact position of the other even when the play breaks down. Admire the short quick strides that allow Shipley to change direction and accelerate so incredibly.
Jordan Shipley Kickoff Return Against o.u. 2008 (via longhornbambam)
Mostly, though, try to cover your ears and protect yourself when the announcers start droning on about the friendship between McCoy and Shipley and don't let it keep you from appreciating the resurgent "Great White Hope."
Sergio Kindle, senior defensive end/linebacker: Aka, the launch of Predator, version 2.0. Barring any more poor late-night decisions on his part, Kindle is ready to absolutely explode onto the college football scene this year. Ready to completely tap into that limitless potential that has teased Texas fans ever since he stepped onto campus. Ready to build on last season, which was ultimately a tease of his ability to rush the passer, a tease of how the mind of Will Muschamp can devise ways to finally fully feature Kindle's unique ability.
As Muschamp famously said earlier this summer, it will take a GPS for opposing offenses to find Kindle at the snap of the football. It's no secret where the whistle will often find Kindle in 2009, though: preying on opposing quarterbacks and laying some flattening blows. Rushing the quarterback from every direction and finally armed withs ome actual pass-rushing moves beyond simply trying to take the edge on every opposing offensive lineman he faces, Kindle should challenge and exceed Brian Orakpo's 11.5 sacks from 2008.
Every time Kindle lays a vicious hit on an opposing quarterback, thank Will Muschamp for his continued presence on the Texas sideline and Mack Brown's willingness to hand the program over to the fiery defensive coordinator. Recall the two years of frustration spent wondering when Kindle would finally make an impact on the program. Daydream about how easily and completely Kindle would tear apart Bush League Stephen McGee given the opportunity to shut that coward up.
Until that time comes, just imagine Sam Bradford walking to the line of scrimmage hoping that his inexperience offensive line can figure out which direction Kindle will come from and then manage to stop him or at least slow him down.
Lamarr Houston, senior defensive tackle: Now listed at 300 pounds, Houston is finally carrying the bulk that will help him hold his ground on the interior of the defensive line. In his second year, Houston should have a better feel for the incredibly quick pace of the game in the middle of the trenches and says that he is now feeling comfortable inside after struggling with a foot injury that slowed him for much of last season.
Charged with replacing some of the production from long-time stalwarts Roy Miller and Aaron Lewis, if Houston can stay healthy he should easily surpass his 2008 totals of 22 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, 11 quarterback pressures and five passes defensed. His health should help him show the motor that made him a fan favorite at defensive tackle. There's no guarantee that the Longhorns will be as stout against the run in 2009 as they were in 2008 -- but Houston will be a major part of any success.
As much as I liked Houston playing the power end position, his relatively quiet year in 2008 means that his status as a favorite Longhorn depends in part upon his production this year. The defensive tackle situation is extremely worrisome and no doubt keeps Will Muschamp up at night -- not because he's scared, because Will Muschamp isn't scared of anything, but it keeps him up at night scheming to keep double teams away from Houston so he can use his quickness to be disruptive. A healthy season, improve comfort level, and some stunting, twisting, and blitzing behind him should help allow Houston to maximize his ability at the defensive tackle position and provide some of the disruptive capability Roy Miller gave the defensive line last season.
DraftParty: DE/OLB Sergio Kindle Highlights Texas vs Oklahoma 2008 (via DraftParty)
Chykie Brown, junior cornerback: Chykie Brown had a lot to prove as he entered spring practice: not only did he need to prove his health after missing several games with a high ankle sprain last season, but he also need to prove that things had clicked enough for him to grab a starting role. After earning one of the starting cornerback positions, it's safe to say that Brown answered both of those questions and set himself up for an outstanding junior season.
Considering the above, Brown could well fit into the category of "break-out player." I chose not to place him there because his performances last season until his injury last season qualified as break-out performances. Strong enough to make him one of my favorite Longhorns.
It started on the first play of the Colorado game when he broke up a deep play-action pass intended for speedster Josh Smith. It continued to grow as he kept making plays until a high ankle sprain derailed much of the rest of his season. I will believe until the day that I die that had Brown been healthy for the Texas Tech game that he would have been in position on the final play and broken up that fateful pass. Maybe a stretch, sure, but it's a belief to which I will continue to cling.
A much more physical presence than oft-maligned Deon Beasley, Brown will be in a heated battle with Aaron Williams this season for the title of "lockdown corner" in the defensive backfield. Maybe the label will end up fitting for both players. Whatever the case, Brown is set to improve upon his strong sophomore season and help elevate the Texas secondary to one of the best in the country with his combination of speed and physicality.
Honorable mention: To the steady play of senior linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, left off as I pine for a cornerback to finally replace the production of departed greats like Cedric Griffin and Aaron Ross. Muck will be a leader of this year's defense and last year finally provided the solid linebacking play not seen since the departure of Aaron Harris.
Now feel free to weigh in with your own "Fab Five" and stay tuned for my "Fab Five: Break-Out 'Horns."