When the Texas Longhorns defense takes the field on Sunday night against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, senior safety Dylan Haines will trot out with the first team for the 24th time in the last 25 games.
And some fans won’t be happy about that, but defensive coordinator Vance Bedford explained on Wednesday why the divisive former walk on continues to start for the ‘Horns despite some young talent behind him.
“He has the support of this coaching staff. He shows up and works hard every day,” Bedford said. “He’s in the meetings. He’s on the field. He can get aligned properly. He helps some of these young guys get aligned the right way. That’s a plus. You need that Steady Eddie out there to get things going. He’s kind of that piece of the puzzle. He’s in the right place at the right time a lot of the time.”
In fact, alignment issues were a major problem for the Longhorns last season, as fellow safety Jason Hall often relied on Haines to get him in position and DeShon Elliott also struggled to know where he was supposed to be in his limited playing time.
As for being in the right place at the right time, diligent work in the film room not only sets an example for the younger players, it allows Haines to make up for his relatively average athleticism through anticipation.
In 2014, his interception return for a touchdown against Iowa State was a direct result of film study and help put the Longhorns in a position to pull that game out with a last-second field goal.
And that wasn’t the only time it’s paid off during his career — Haines led Texas with five interceptions last season, a number that tied for third in the Big 12, and has nine in his career. If he secures two more this season, he’ll be tied for 10th on the all-time list at DBU. He only needs 62 return yards on those interceptions to break the school record held by Chris Carter.
More than just interceptions, Haines was in the right place often enough last season to lead the team with eight pass break ups. No other defensive back had more tackles for loss than the Lago Vista product.
Unfortunately for Haines, Bedford believes that fans have something of a double-standard with him, criticizing him too heavily for mistakes and not giving him enough credit for his successes, all while focusing on the positives with other players.
“People forget the plays he has made for us,” Bedford said. “You can do nine things right, one thing wrong, guess what people are going to remember? And they are going to blow it out of proportion. He’s made some plays. He’s missed some plays. So has Malik Jefferson. Haven’t said that about Malik Jefferson. Holton Hill. Same thing you can say about him. He made some plays.”
Given how Haines used the motivation of not receiving any scholarship offers out of high school and being ignored by the previous coaching staff during his redshirt freshman season, perhaps he’ll just using the slights of fans to further spur his success.
When the senior decided to follow his older brother to Austin — Dakota was a walk-on wide receiver under former head coach Mack Brown — all he wanted was to be able to put on that burnt orange jersey and get on the field.
After that happened against North Texas in 2014, Haines wasn’t content. Nor was he content when he interception a pass against the Mean Green in his third collegiate snap.
He still has photos from that interception so he can remember where he came from and why he’s still working so hard — Haines understands that there’s talent like 2016’s No. 1 safety, Brandon Jones, trying to take the job from him just like he took the job from scholarship players two years ago.
“His dad paid for him to go to school here,” Bedford said. “He doesn’t have a star on his head. That’s why he works so hard. He works hard to prove that he belongs.”
Despite the criticism, Haines has already done that as one of the most productive defensive backs in school history.
So don’t expect the Texas coaches to stop playing him while he has eligibility remaining because he works hard and he puts himself in the right places — maybe it’s simply the narrative around him that needs to change.