Make no mistake about it — Texas Longhorns sophomore Fox end Breckyn Hager isn’t just a good ping-pong player, he’s also a certifiable lunatic.
And that’s meant in the nicest possible way. The guy has one of the best motors on the team and gives 100-percent effort every time he’s on the field.
So after his move to Fox end to back up junior Naashon Hughes, which resulted in a rather limited role in the season opener, head coach Charlie Strong decided that Hager needed to play more against the UTEP Miners.
“You know what, let's find a way to get Hager on the field,” Strong told defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and defensive line coach Brick Haley last week.
The game against the Miners presented an interesting opportunity, as UTEP offensive coordinator Brent Pease runs the Boise State offense, which typically features two wide receivers and two tight ends.
So Texas didn’t have to come out in its normal nickel look and doesn’t have ideal depth at linebacker in terms of players that the coaches trust at the moment.
After some discussion, the defensive staff decided to play Hughes and Hager at the same time with three down linemen in a five-man front that basically used them both as Fox ends.
The move from linebacker to Fox end for the Westlake product had happened during the spring in large part because of Hager’s blitzing ability.
"When I look at Hager, when I want to pressure a guy, quarterback look out, because Hager is coming full speed," Bedford said at the time. "He's one of our best blitzers."
Indeed, when the ‘Horns released Hager in that role on Saturday evening, he responded in a big way, producing a career-high eight tackles and one sack, the first of his career. His eight tackles led the team.
“One thing about him, you're going to get everything out of him, and he's going to rush hard, he's going to chase, he's going to play with a lot of effort and he's going to play with a lot of energy,” Strong said.
In fact, Hager has something of a reputation with his teammates — they are well aware of his lunatic tendencies.
“And even at practice, guys don't like to hit him,” Strong said. “They will do anything not to hit him because they know he goes so hard.”
With freshman Fox end Malcolm Roach making an impact in his own expanded role, Strong now has two absolute wild men at the position.
“Roach is so athletic,” Strong said of the Louisiana native. “But him and Hager are similar because they play with so much energy. And it's fun to be in the defensive line room when Coach Haley is going over it, because you look at those two guys and they are kind of like kamikaze.”
“They are sitting there, man — he's trying to tempo those two guys down because the other three, they are going to go but not like those two.”
It’s a combination that should have a lot of success for the ‘Horns as long as the two players know where they’re going. But whatever happens when they are on the field, particularly Hager, it’s always going to be interesting. Something will happen.
“It was just fun to watch him tonight, and you see, he made a lot of plays,” Strong said. “Whenever you put him out there, he's going to make plays. Something's going to happen. It's going to be good a lot, sometimes it may be bad, but it's going to be in our favor.”