clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Texas Longhorns upperclassmen, freshmen now coming together for singular purpose

What locker-room divide?

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Cliches exist for a reason and sometimes a picture does indeed tell a thousand words.

haines omenihu three

Three weeks ago, Texas Longhorns freshman defensive end Charles Omenihu publicly responded to junior safety Dylan Haines calling out younger players for a lack of preparation and suggesting that not everyone on the team was "on the same page."

The comments came after the Cowtown Beatdown against TCU and followed not one, not two, but three team meetings in a matter of days that seemingly failed to adequately address exactly those issues.

At some point between that low moment and the team's redemption in the Cotton Bowl, those differences dissipated, giving way to the most cohesive team effort in the Charlie Strong era.

So when Omenihu went over to congratulate Haines after the late interception against the Kansas State Wildcats that set up the 18 Wheeler close out, it wasn't just one teammate congratulating another -- it was proof positive that all the key elements of the program are now pulling in the same direction.

"Confidence is preparation, and that's what we have been taking to heart," Haines said. "We've been preparing not better, but harder. We've been taking things more seriously after we started the season 2-4."

For some of the players, winning for head coach Charlie Strong helped make the difference against Oklahoma. Yet, even when Strong sat around with junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway and several other players on the Friday night before beating the Sooners and they told him they would win for him, Strong simply wanted them to play for each other.

Did it all begin as doing it for the coach and then coming together for each other? Ultimately, the specific dynamics don't matter as much as the current reality.

"Honestly, just going out there and playing for each other," said Ridgeway when asked about the biggest difference.

"Just knowing that. Trusting the dude next to you. Just playing for that person. Just trusting each other I think."

The young players and the older players also had to iron out the differences that Haines highlighted. Not even the junior safety believed there was a true locker-room divide at the time -- the freshmen just had to learn how to prepare because it wasn't out-sized egos causing the problems.

"The good thing about it is the young guys don't come in with an ego," Strong said. "It can be an issue if they had an ego, they walked around like they invented football, the reason we're doing thing is because of me, I'm a freshman. They haven't."

Still, the upperclassmen had to buy into the leadership equation, providing guidance and tutoring to all the youngsters trying to transition to the college game.

"It's a really good group," Strong said Monday. "The good thing about it is that the younger guys have really bought into them. They've bought into the older guys. There's no division. A lot of times when you're playing a bunch of young guys, they want to feel like that they're the team. The older guys who actually built the foundation of the program, they feel kind of left out."

With so many freshmen playing on both sides of the ball, often displacing older players, if Strong had lost the upperclassmen, he truly would have had a problem in the Texas locker room.

"But we haven't done that," he said. "That's what I tell our older guys all the time. If y'all want to win, you have to bring these guys in, make sure this becomes a team. That's what has started to happen now. The team is beginning to build. Playing with confidence, having fun, talking about the attitude, that's why they're having it now because of the older guys."

Having no-nonsense members of the freshmen class contributing in important positions surely made a difference. Strong describes left tackle Connor Williams and right guard Patrick Vahe as guys who show up and work hard, but don't say much. Same for wide receiver John Burt and cornerback Davante Davis.

Even the most hyped of all the 2015 signees, linebacker Malik Jefferson, has avoided the pitfalls that come with such widespread recognition.

"He's not a prima donna," Strong said. "It's all real with him, everything he does. He is a total team guy. It's not like he walks around (with an ego). He can walk in here and probably wouldn't even say nothing because that's just who he is."

Meanwhile, older players like senior running back Johnathan Gray, senior linebacker Peter Jinkens, and senior cornerback Duke Thomas have provided the necessary leadership.

Thomas, in particular, has been key in bringing along a group of cornerbacks that entered the season without any significant experience and now includes two true freshmen playing heavy snaps with a redshirt freshman and another true freshman also rotating in.

"It's amazing how you sit out there sometimes and watch Duke [Thomas] and how he coaches them," Strong said. "Even in a game, he's sitting there communicating and telling them what to do."

Add it all together and instead of the rumored discord currently threatening to split apart the Texas A&M football program, the Texas players are pulling in the same direction, for the same purpose, working as one.

"The thing about it is these guys here, they want to win," Strong said. "They're working. Like I said, now you can see it coming together."