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Playing for Texas OC/OL coach Joe Wickline not easy, say former OSU OL

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The "military-style system" employed by the old school offensive line coach can be a turn off for some.

John Weast

To say that Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline has an intense personality is an understatement.

He drew some attention early in the season after he left the field directly after several games without singing the Eyes of Texas with the rest of the team.

It wasn't because Wickline was having any conflicts with play caller Watson. He was just frustrated and needed time to cool down.

And that's Wickline, who was described as having a "military-style system" by former offensive lineman Evan Epstein, one of several former Oklahoma State players to speak with The Oklahoman recently about the Texas offensive coordinator:

"The best way I could describe it is that it was kind of a military-style system," Epstein said. "He took young inexperienced players - and through intense discipline, intense physical work and intense mental work - he was able to take these guys that no one thought could play and make them pretty good.

"A lot of young players thought, ‘Wick hates me.' But it's not that. If anything, he hates everybody. At least it's equal hate ... He knew how to get the best out of every individual player. The people that embraced it immediately became better players."

There's no question that Wickline has been getting the best out of his group this season, as he did so many times for the Cowboys -- the Longhorns now have the No. 47 rushing attack nationally in the S&P metrics and just rushed for 5.82 yards per carry against a Mountaineers defense that came into last week's game as a top-20 rush defense in S&P.

But some players simply don't make it.

Epstein speculated that perhaps as many as half of Wickline's former linemen at Oklahoma State wouldn't have anything positive to say about him. Even Epstein, who didn't allow a single sack as a senior, had some tough moments. In fact, it took what he called a "transcendent moment" to break through and understand why Wickline was so tough on him.

So perhaps it's not a surprise that there has already been some attrition at Texas -- former offensive guard Rami Hammad was at one point committed to Wickline at Oklahoma State, but couldn't handle his intensity as a coach, transferring to Baylor before the season.

And former four-star prospect Curtis Riser, a product of DeSoto who was rated as the No. 4 offensive guard nationally in the 2012 and as a top-100 prospect, has fallen off of the depth chart despite the high expectations that accompanied him to campus.

For some players on the edge, however, the guys on the fringes of the program, those players can benefit tremendously from his tutelage, according to current NFL offensive guard Charlie Johnson, who went to OSU as a tight end and emerged as a prospect capable of playing at the next level after only one season as a starter:

"He could find guys who didn't truly want to be there, the guys who just want the notoriety of playing football ... and turned them in another direction," Johnson said. "I know that probably sounds bad when you read it in print. But I think as a player when you're in that situation, and you see a coach who is able to do that, players respect that."

Wickline has already done that this season at Texas, taking a player the former staff didn't want in junior Marcus Hutchins and turning him into an adequate left tackle. Once a coveted prospect in the 2011 class out of DeSoto, Hutchins saw his stock fall late in the process as he failed to gain weight and then never contributed as a guard before moving to defensive tackle in 2013.

He never impacted the depth chart there, either, but has been a quick study out at tackle after moving back this fall, as he's filled in after the dismissal to former starter Kennedy Estelle and the suspension of prospective starter Desmond Harrison.

Then there's junior center Taylor Doyle, another player the former staff didn't want who languished on the fringes of the program for three seasons. He hadn't even played much center before moving there prior to the Oklahoma game and solidifying the position to allow redshirt freshman Jake Raulerson more time to develop.

And, of course, NCAA. That's sophomore Camrhon Hughes, a player many gave up on after he failed to show any semblance of aptitude in terms of footwork or blocking ability after an ACL injury prior to his true freshman season.

The nickname says it all -- No Contact At All, the moniker by which head coach Charlie Strong still refers to Hughes even though he's been starting for weeks and slowly improving.

So the good news moving forward is that three of the five members of the starting group along the line have essentially come out of nowhere to contribute. And they're getting better.

There will be some guys who fall by the wayside, likely one or two among the 2015 commits, but the guys who can stick it out, the guys who get Wickline -- those players will eventually emerge as good collegiate offensive linemen and more than a few of them will get a shot at the next level.