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Football-loving Texas WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps maturing into important playmaker

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The emotional redshirt freshman is keying the short passing game for the ‘Horns.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine the long climb and fast, adrenaline-filled fall on your favorite childhood roller coaster.

For Texas Longhorn sophomore wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, that roller coaster largely defines the Houston-area product’s experience of life and, most especially, his experience of football.

For Longhorns head coach Tom Herman, the Hemphill-Mapps experience is all about ensuring that his volatile young player stays steady.

“Keeping him focused on the task at hand and on his job and his job only and not riding the roller coaster of emotion and being too high when things are good and too low when things are bad,” Herman said on Monday.

The college debut for Hemphill-Mapps featured quite some impressive highs — his 91-yard punt return against Maryland was the third-longest in school history. He also added seven catches in that game.

But there were also lows for Hemphill-Mapps that day and in the immediate aftermath. Two poor decisions on punt return to catch balls deep in Longhorns territory. A first-half suspensions against San Jose State the following week that gave senior Armanti Foreman a chance to step into his role as punt returner and primary slot target.

After those seven catches in the opener, Hemphill-Mapps only caught six passes over the next three games, while Foreman scored two touchdowns and caught 12 passes, along with receiving four carries in those games.

However, Foreman only produced two yards on two carries against Iowa State and couldn’t compete in practice with the younger player, resulting in his benching last weekend.

The thing about Hemphill-Mapps is that he loves to practice and loves to play football.

“The really cool thing about Reggie is he likes playing football,” Herman said on Monday. “That guy, when you say, hey, who are the -- give me a few names of guys that you just know love playing football, and he would be one of the first names that comes to mind, because he goes hard every day in practice. He has fun going hard. He can do it with a smile on his face.”

There’s no “drudgery” in practicing for the redshirt freshman, as Herman put it, wondering aloud whether that’s a word. (It is.)

So after going through a needed period of maturation following the suspension against the Spartans, Hemphill-Mapps emerged as a critical part of the game plan as Foreman was relegated to the bench for the entire game.

With 12 catches against Kansas State, the Manvel product set a school freshman record in that category and placed fourth on the all-time Texas single-game reception list. The 121 yards that he produced were crucial to the double-overtime victory, especially a handful of catches on the final two drives that put the ‘Horns in position to tie and then win the game.

As the ‘Horns focus more on the short passing game, Hemphill-Mapps is becoming a critical element because of his consistent ability to create separation, catch the football, and make plays after the catch.

“He's quick, he's explosive,” Herman said. “He's pretty top-end fast, and he's probably in the top 10 on our team. But I'd say first step quickness he's in the top two or three.”

All the ingredients for success are there with Hemphill-Mapps, and it’s starting to show on the field. The key is staying off the roller coaster and remaining level instead.