Texas Longhorns offensive guard Patrick Vahe was mad.
On the big stage of the Cotton Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners last fall, an opposing player had pulled on the long, flowing hair that Vahe hasn’t cut since he was a freshman at Euless Trinity years ago.
“When people pull on my hair, like that OU game, I get very angry,” Vahe said.
So the big, physical mauler simply took it out on the field, helping the ‘Horns rush for 313 yards in a shocking 24-17 upset over the Sooners.
Note to the Sooners — it might not be wise to pull on Vahe’s hair next time around.
After the game, in a locker room giddy with the thrill of the unexpected victory, the Tongan let loose once again, this time with a performance of the traditional haka dance that became one of the iconic moments in an up-and-down season for head coach Charlie Strong and the ‘Horns.
Unfortunately for Texas, Vahe also experienced some up-and-down moments during his true freshman season, though he ultimately earned consideration as a freshman All-American and all-Big 12 honorable mention.
Despite those accolades and a solid B average from the coaching staff heading into the West Virginia game, the evaluation by Pro Football Focus was not as kind, as Vahe graded out at -21.2, the worst grade of all freshmen guards.
There’s some dissonance there, similar to the dissonance created when comparing the mild off-field manner of Vahe with his fierce on-field persona.
Unquestionably, there were some bad moments for Vahe, especially in pass protection, an area of the game he didn’t rep much during game situations
The 6’3, 320-pounder should benefit from having fewer drop-back situations in 2016 due to the run-pass options that offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will run, but experience will also likely help Vahe improve.
As he gets older and begins to understand the game more, his physicality and tenacity will be able to have a greater influence on his overall performance.
“He’s one of my favorite guys,” former play caller Jay Norvell said of Vahe last fall. “Just his competitive nature. He’s physical, he plays with a great base, and I think more than anything else he plays with a great competitive spirit. He loves the game. If you watch the end of plays he’s usually wearing his guy out till the whistle with the hair flying.”
For the Texas offensive line to take the next step and improve as a unit in 2016 despite the likelihood that a freshman will start at center and another freshman could start at the other guard position, Vahe will have to be more like the player who mauled Oklahoma and earned that freshman All-America nod from ESPN than the player who struggled so often in pass protection.
Perhaps all it will take is someone pulling on his hair every game.