Jordan Shipley and Michael Huff both stood at about six feet, but they appeared much taller to fellow BON writer Robert Larkin and I as we approached them for our scheduled interview. Considering Robert and I are college sophomores, we never journalistically critiqued the play of Shipley and Huff — we simply idolized them as our childhood heroes.
Huff rose from an unheralded track athlete to a Thorpe award winner with the Texas Longhorns, claiming a 2005 national title prior to a fruitful career with the Raiders. Wide receiver Shipley, on the other hand, notched the most receptions in Texas history, and now hosts a TV show on the Outdoor Channel called “The Bucks of Tecomate”.
The two are both still in playing shape and frankly look like they could disguise themselves as members of the 2016 Longhorns roster. Both have had moments were they wish they could.
“I’m at that point now where I’m like, man, I’m starting to miss it. I want to get around the guys, I feel like I couldn’t do anything to help them, but I really want to try to. We need to be good again,” Shipley remarked.
“The one thing that Texas isn’t lacking is talent. I think once they learn to harness that talent and play for each other, I think they’ll be fine,” Huff added.
To help that talent thrive, Shipley hypothesized that it may be as simple as having fun. The wide receiver discussed the swagger that Vince Young brought to the team in the mid 2000s, and said that his loose style is absent now.
“At this place, when you’re winning, you’re having fun. I feel like this has been a stressful period for us, and nobody is having fun and just letting loose.”
But while nobody on the current team has emulated the legendary VY, Shipley has certainly seen comparisons between freshman quarterback Shane Buechele and Colt McCoy, citing that both possess good decision making and quick releases. McCoy was also a freshman starter, and Shipley discussed the challenges and advantages of putting a rookie behind center.
“There’s always a balance to having a talented freshman quarterback and the coaches deciding how much to let him loose. You don’t want a young guy to come in and have his confidence shaken, but at the same time, we need to win some ball games,” Shipley said.
Huff knows the experience of being a young starter all too well. The safety was one of three freshman secondary players to receive playing time in 2003.
“We were freshmen going against Roy (Williams), B.J. (Johnson), and Sloan (Thomas) in practice, who were all seniors. Going against them in practice every day made games easy.”
Though Texas doesn’t have future NFL senior wide receivers on the roster now, Huff still thinks the youthful, sometimes clumsy secondary will ultimately accelerate their learning curve through practice.
“They need to work on the technique in practice, take advantage of going against great receivers and Buechele. If you treat practice like a game, then the games will be easy,” Huff said.
Fixing the secondary will be key for the Longhorns to successfully conclude the season, and for Charlie Strong to save his job as head coach. Huff and Shipley both emphasized the importance of having second- and third-year starters.
“I know the first year he had to clean house, but in the last couple years he’s finally gotten his recruiting classes,” Huff said. “For me, at least one more year would be the true test — once his guys are actually on the field and start playing as sophomores and juniors.”
“What I’m personally looking for is progress. If we come out and are horrible next year, then that’s the answer. But if we see progress towards the end of the year, and then you have a sophomore quarterback and if Foreman comes back — they could be pretty dangerous,” Shipley noted.
Both Shipley and Huff praised Charlie Strong’s recruiting abilities, which begged the question — could Shipley or Huff have children who will one day take the gridiron and be recruited for the burnt orange?
“Oh, no,” Huff quickly answered. “I took all the hits for them so they don’t have to.”
“I was going to say the same thing,” Shipley added.
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These Burnt Orange writers found that the childhood heroes we once looked up to are also humble, down-to-earth guys. They may not be flying all over Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturdays any more, but the two have continued to represent Texas well long after taking off their burnt orange jerseys for the final time.