In a low moment for the Texas Longhorns — the immediate aftermath of the 24-0 road loss to the Iowa State Cyclones in October of 2015 — a photographer captured freshmen Patrick Vahe and Malik Jefferson walking off the field in Ames with disappointment etched on their young faces, but the appearance of future stars.
Both went on to earn freshman All-American honors and looked poised to become the faces of a finally-resurgent program.
Instead, just a little more than a year later, both players were benched for poor performances against Kansas State. All of a sudden, their respective trajectories no longer looked headed for the stars.
Last Thursday, Vahe admitted that he’d lost focus, lost track of what made him suit up in the burnt orange and white in the first place.
“My mind’s been on the wrong path,” said the 6’4, 325-pounder. “My effort really wasn’t there. It really wasn’t what was needed for the team at that moment. But I’m on a different road right now.”
Vahe said that he doesn’t blame the old coaching staff, including former position coach Matt Mattox, for his issues.
“It was just a personal problem of mine,” Vahe said. “It was my decision to get back to where I needed to be.”
A lifelong Texas fan who was always known for his big smile and a trademark intensity on the field, Vahe is trying to get back to his roots in order to rediscover the form that helped him become an immediate starter after arriving in 2015.
“Just realize why I’m here, the reason why I play at Texas,” he said of his growth. “I love playing this football game.”
“Why am I here? I do it because of my pride, my family. I’ve always wanted to come here since I was a little boy. Seeing them with those national championships, I wanted to be a part of that. Or at least get my degree from one of the best schools in the world.”
As a freshman, Vahe quickly became one of play caller Jay Norvell’s favorite players because of all the traits that suddenly disappeared last season.
"Just his competitive nature," Norvell continued. "He's physical. I think more than anything else, he plays with a great competitive spirit. I mean, he loves the game and if you watch the end of plays, he's usually wearing his guy out until the whistle and with the hair flying and all that kind of stuff."
Back in the starting lineup under new position coach Derek Warehime, Vahe is now playing on the left side next to standout tackle Connor Williams, a fellow junior. In Vahe’s old spot on the right is rising junior Jake McMillon, last season’s revelation at guard whose ascent pushed Vahe to the bench.
Once again, the future looks bright for Vahe, who approached the coaching change with a willingness to give respect to his coaches. Warehime has taken notice — “Vahe’s in a great spot right now mentally,” he said.
Described by Norvell in 2015 as an aspiring leader and potential “backbone” of the football team, Vahe has his mind right, re-focused on his goals, his team, and the love for the game that made him a freshman All-American.
And so perhaps there is another celebratory, cathartic post-Cotton Bowl victory Sipi Tau in Vahe’s future once again.
Fans of the old Vahe, the guy “with the hair flying and all that stuff,” would like nothing more than that.