Texas Longhorns seniors play last home game with mixed legacy

Tom Pennington

On Thursday, Texas fans get to say goodbye to members of the senior class.

When the Texas Longhorns take the field on Thanksgiving to play the Texas Tech Red Raiders, it will be the final appearance at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for 13 scholarship members of the 2009 and 2010 classes.

Barring two victories in the final two games, the group will leave Texas as one of the least successful in recent memory, having been the first in 24 years not to win or share a division/conference title. Of course, the changes in the Big 12 that have left it with only 10 teams means that those division titles are off the table -- only a share of the conference title counts -- but the stat underscores the struggles of the program over the last four years.

Even more galling is the fact that those 13 players have never beaten a ranked opponent at home, losing in all eight opportunities. Texas hasn't won such a game since 2008 when Chase Daniel and the Missouri Tigers came to town and got embarrassed on national television.

Throw in the losses to Iowa State and UCLA in 2010, along with those other eight losses at home, and this group hasn't done an especially good job protecting home field overall.

The only three remaining members of the 2009 class who signed as scholarship players are offensive guard Mason Walters, center Garrett Porter, and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, closing the book on that disappointing class that only graduated six of 21 signees.

For many members of the 2010 class, this is the end for a group that was talked about as the best in school history when they signed with the understanding that the true measure would be taken at the end of their careers as Longhorns.

It was a class that defensive tackle Taylor Bible boldly predicted would win four national championships in the heady days after Five-Star Friday and overall strong finish for a class that Rivals had No. 3 nationally behind USC and Florida. Bible never contributed in two years for the Horns before washing out of the program.

By that definition, the class has been a failure, with little chance that any of the remaining 2010 signees -- Demarco Cobbs, Aaron Benson, Bryant Jackson, Tevin Jackson, Jordan Hicks, or Will Russ -- will form a nucleus for a highly successful team next year. Of those players, only Hicks has been a significant contributor, though only in the brief moments that he's actually been healthy.

Yet, the ills of the program have been visited on the remaining players as much as they have visited their own on the program -- there's a reason that these are the survivors, the players who were contributors and stayed out of trouble, many of them difference makers to the extent that the lean years from 2010 to 2013 had them, and there are surely more than a few who have pioneered legacies worthy of remembrance.

The only disappointments left here are several instances of unmet potential. For the rest of these players, they've fought and persevered through coaching changes and adversity without wavering.

Case McCoy, quarterback -- Ah yes, the quarterback Rorschach test, where some see moxie and winneryness and other see a hopelessly limited quarterback with a penchant for bad decisions.

The truth is that McCoy is oddly both of these things at the same time, capable of leading improbable comebacks often enough to make it a legitimate skill and oddly lacking the fundamentals and physical ability to make a great number of throws, with long stretches of somehow avoiding interceptions and then stretches where they come in bunches.

Recruited as a career back up McCoy has surpassed expectations as an occasionally-capable starter who has saved Mack Brown's behind a few times, recording some of the most memorable wins in the last three years.

The clueless scramble against A&M to pull that game out to give Texas fans indefinite bragging rights over their longtime rival, saving Brown from what might have been his two worst losses against Kansas and Iowa State, the win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl this season, and the comeback victory all help give McCoy a complicated but impressive legacy.

Imagining where this Texas team would be without those wins this year is a scary thought.

Mike Davis, wide receiver -- Davis burst onto the scene by setting a Texas freshman record with 47 receptions, aided by the freshman single-game record of 11 catches against Kansas State. Davis also finished fourth in receiving yards for a freshman despite missing time with a knee injury.

Since then, he's been the team's best deep threat and perhaps the most consistent deep threat in the last 10 years of Longhorns football with his penchant for getting open deep on post routes from David Ash and on fades this season from Case McCoy.

Once again the team's leading receiver with 589 receiving yards and a team-best six touchdowns, Davis has led the Horns in receiving yards every year since his freshman season and currently ranks fourth in team history in both receptions and receiving yards -- there's a strong argument to be made that Davis is one of the all-time greats at his position at Texas.

Not bad for a guy who was passed over at the Junior Day he attended and only ended up at Texas because he reached out to the coaching staff late in the process. And it's good thing he did because the rest of the 2010 recruiting class at wide receiver completely tanked -- Chris Jones transferred out of the program before making a catch, Darius White was a malignant malcontent, and Darius Terrell was never all that interested in the move to tight end/H-back, eventually transferring to North Texas to move back to wide receiver.

Between the three of them, they accounted for only seven catches and one touchdown while playing in burnt orange, obviously a fraction of the production the Horns have been fortunate enough to receive from Davis. Without Davis, the 2010 wide receiver class would have been a complete loss.

Donald Hawkins, offensive tackle -- Since junior college players are rather the mercenaries of college athletics, it's hard to generate the same type of feelings over two years that most players engender over the course of four years in the program, but that shouldn't keep Longhorns fans from appreciating the contributions of the team's starting left tackle over the last two years.

After the tackle position was a mess in 2011, Texas swiped Hawkins from Oklahoma State and he's started every game there since for the Longhorns, providing often exceptional run blocking and mostly competent pass blocking from that position despite talk that fellow junior college transfer Desmond Harrison would displace him this season.

Without landing Hawkins, the Horns could have struggled mightily to find a player who could have produced at the level Hawkins has over the last two seasons.

Trey Hopkins, offensive guard -- Perhaps one of the smartest offensive linemen the Longhorns have had, and certainly the most mobile of the current group, Hopkins has combined with Hawkins to form a strong left side of the line that dominated opponents in the run game at times this season, especially from the Kansas State to Oklahoma games.

After filling in at right tackle in 2011, Hopkins has been the best lineman for Texas over the last two years and has started in 39 of his 47 appearances at Texas, including four starts as a true freshman. Unfortunately, Hopkins is currently rated as the No. 21 offensive guard in the 2014 NFL Draft class, meaning that if he wants to make a team in the NFL, he'll probably have to make a roster after going undrafted.

There's no question that Hopkins belongs in the group of departing players who deserve the rich affection of Texas fans.

Garrett Porter, center -- Part of the massively disappointing 2009 offensive line recruiting class that produced only one contributor in Mason Walters, Porter has rarely played for the Horns other than on special teams, but did make a tackle in 2012 against Kansas State. So there's that. Most schools would probably expect more than a former four-star prospect.

Mason Walters, guard -- A former five-star prospect who was expected to hold down the left tackle position for years for Texas, Walters suffered a foot injury early in the 2009 season that didn't help his chances of staying outside and since then he's been an interior player and one of the longest-tenured starters in the country, having trotted out with the first team for the last 48 games, the second-longest streak nationally.

At one point in 2011, Walters drew a comparison from Mack Brown to nasty former trench warrior Kasey Studdard. The leap needed to reach that level never happened, leaving Walters as often the weakest link on the line over the last two seasons.

As much as Walters deserves credit for never having his contributions as a teammate questioned, it's hard not to reflect on his expectations entering the program and how he's performed and leave it all feeling like Walters is somehow emblematic of what Texas has become at the end of the Mack Brown era.

Chris Whaley, defensive tackle -- Once a punch-line to jokes about the incompetence of Mack Brown as a running back talent evaluator, Whaley morphed himself into one of the leaders of the team and one of its top contributors as a senior, providing perhaps the most memorable moment from the unexpected beating laid on the Sooners at the Cotton Bowl with his interception return for a touchdown that featured him Belldozing the Belldozer himself.

In a tragic turn of events, Whaley won't get to wear his 96 on the field at DKR for one last time as a participant, as he'll be consigned to watching from the bench on crutches following the knee injury against West Virginia that ended his Texas career.

For a guy who could have given up and transferred after he was moved from running back to H-back and then to defensive end and then to defensive tackle, Whaley's story is one of perseverance and hard work that could still take him to the NFL if he can get his knee rehabbed and regain the athleticism that has always defined him as one of the rangiest defensive tackles around.

Jackson Jeffcoat, defensive end -- The Five-Star Friday pledge with Jordan Hicks has been by far the more productive of the oft-injured duo, despite suffering through torn pectoral muscles in 2011 and 2012. Had he been healthy his entire career, there's little question that Jeffcoat would have his name high on the career sacks list for Texas, but he has been good enough creating stops behind the line of scrimmage to rank tied for seventh in tackles for loss in a single season (2011) and tied for fourth for a career (54 and counting).

His forced fumble and recovery against West Virginia that set off the crowd at DKR was one of the loudest moments in recent history and his eight tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks against Cal in the 2011 Holiday Bowl with a torn pectoral muscle was one of the great recent performances by a Texas player.

Reggie Wilson, defensive end -- Another former five-star prospect, Wilson's career went in a direction opposite of his classmate Jeffcoat and as a result he represents a cautionary tale to evaluators in ranking upside over production, as many, including myself, thought he had a chance to be a better college player than Jeffcoat.

Instead, he got buried on a deep depth chart and never made much an impact for the Longhorns as fans waited each season for the proverbial light to come on with Wilson. It wasn't a case of a bad attitude or a lack of work ethic, necessarily, it just never happened for a player who came to the game late and simply was never able to put his significant athletic gifts to good use on the field.

Carrington Byndom, cornerback -- One of the breakout sensations of the 2011 season when he was able to help replace three starters in the Texas secondary departed for the NFL, the Lufkin product has had trouble consistently reaching the upside he suggested during his sophomore season, as bouts of missed tackles and getting man-handled physically in the running game and screen game have plagued him.

Yet, he's still the team's best cover corner who rarely has games where opponents can pick on his coverage abilities. Because of that ability, he'll be a likely late-round draft pick who will have the opportunity to continue the DBU tradition of Texas in the NFL. Not only that, but his 58-yard interception return helped the Longhorns come back against the Aggies in 2011 to secure a victory in the final regular-season game between the two schools as conference opponents.

Adrian Phillips, safety -- The Garland product has turned things around from his massively disappointing junior campaign with his return to health as a senior. There have been occasional shaky moments, like combining with Byndom in the Iowa State game for a combined missed tackle against running back Aaron Wimberly that was shades of 2012, but for the most part he has been the most steady and most valuable member of the secondary in 2013.

With the move to a Cover 3 defense, Phillips has been the key piece for Duane Akina in helping leverage opposing running game, while still providing valuable service in coverage. On the year, he has 60 tackles (40 solo), two interceptions, two passes broken up, and two quarterback hurries.

He never quite became the NFL prospect that many anticipated after a promising sophomore season, but he's managed to turn in a solid career in which most of the low moments were probably a result of the shoulder injury he suffered at the end of his sophomore season that set back his development.

Anthony Fera, kicker -- A finalist for the Lou Groza Award because he ranks as one of the most accurate place-kickers in the country with only a single miss on the season, Fera is another player who has turned his Texas career around after a disappointing junior season derailed by a groin injury he suffered before transferring from Penn State.

The team's MVP to many this season, Fera has also consistently pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line, even if his overall punting average is rather average. Even saying that, considering that the other option this year was basically the still-unproven Will Russ, having Fera able to handle the punting duties solidified a position that could have been a major weakness for the team a year after benefitting from the presence of graduate transfer Alex King.

Cade McCrary, holder -- Garrett Gilbert's former favorite target at Lake Travis and the son of former defensive ends coach and recruiting coordinator Hardee McCrary, Cade has been the holder for the last four years and has spent the last two seasons on scholarship. The talk of him actually contributing as a receiver were always silly and over baked, but he's provided a valuable service as a holder and has done the job flawlessly, a task that is often overlooked but ever valuable.

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