A year ago, Derek Kerstetter was playing along the offensive line for San Antonio Reagan and looking ahead to his college career with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Things haven’t exactly gone to plan — he flipped to the Texas Longhorns not long after head coach Tom Herman offered him last September and now he’s the starting right tackle for the ‘Horns.
Listed at 299 pounds out of high school, Kerstetter is actually around 280 pounds, according to Herman, light for an offensive lineman and far from the type of strength that would be ideal in major-college football.
But a string of injuries and attrition have thrust Kerstetter into the spotlight, and so far he’s done enough to maintain his starting job. First it was junior Elijah Rodriguez going down in preseason camp, then former Under Armour All-American Jean Delance’s transfer. After All-American left tackle Connor Williams was hurt, Kerstetter quickly jumped over older players like redshirt freshman JP Urquidez. And even senior Tristan Nickelson, who has started a handful of games over the last two season for the ‘Horns.
Head coach Tom Herman admitted on Monday that he wasn’t especially familiar with Kerstetter when he arrived on campus.
“I just didn't know Derek very well,” Herman said. “You know, that whole class, a lot of those guys, if we weren't recruiting them at Houston, it was like speed dating, you know. You're trying to develop these relationships with kids and families and a couple weeks' worth of time.”
The Longhorns head coach had offered and evaluated Kersetter when he was with the Cougars, but Kerstetter’s commitment to Oklahoma State during the summer of 2016 essentially eliminated Houston from contention. Herman’s staff surely spent little effort to recruit him after that point, knowing that a flip was extremely unlikely.
Even though it appeared that Kerstetter was headed for a redshirt season once he arrived at Texas, even after some of the injuries, the true freshman stood out in practice with his toughness. Against Iowa State, he earned his first career start after showing potential during the bye week.
“Wasn't sure what we had there other than what I had seen on film, but his toughness is off the charts for a true freshman,” Herman said. ”He's still got years worth of development from a strength and size standpoint to work on. But this is a guy that's going to scratch and claw and scrape for everything and give you everything he's got to make sure his guy doesn't make the tackle.”
With good agility and the right demeanor for the position, Kerstetter is settling into his role and could became a long-term staple along the offensive line if he continues improving and adding strength.
To be able to play the position as a true freshman is a rare accomplishment — Herman had difficulty remembering playing someone so young, but then recalled using a freshman center at Houston. At that position, it’s difficult to compete with the strength of opponents. Right tackle, however, is arguably more difficult because there’s so little help and so many more blitzes to identify. The footwork and hand placement needed to stop good edge rushers is one of the most difficult tasks to master in college football.
Kerstetter is far from perfect and has made his share of his mistakes. Given the circumstances, though, Herman’s claim that his young tackle is doing an “admirable” job stands up to scrutiny.
The type of scrutiny in the spotlight of Texas football that Kerstetter likely never expected not so long ago.