Now a junior, Texas Longhorns safety DeShon Elliott knows both sides.
The Rockwall product has been at Texas long enough — and has enough understanding of the program’s storied tradition at defensive back — to understand that the school long known as Defensive Back U no longer deserves that moniker.
“The way we’ve been playing lately the last two years, it wasn’t up to standard,” Elliott said last week. “It wasn’t up to par. I feel like we shouldn’t be saying [DBU]. There are schools around the country playing better than us. They can say it. We aren’t up to that level yet. We’ve got to get up to that level.”
Indeed, Elliott was a recent ‘Horns signee two years ago when a dispute broke out between two SEC defensive powers — LSU and Florida — about which school really deserved those bragging rights.
The absence of Texas from that discussion was as noticeable as it was deserved.
After the incredible run of defensive backs heading off to the NFL throughout the 2000s during in the Duane Akina era — the longtime position coach was the modern-day architect of DBU in Austin — the ‘Horns had fallen on hard times.
Once the talented draft class of 2011 came off of NFL draft boards, the Longhorns only produced three selections from the defensive backfield through 2016. Three of those classes failed to produce any NFL draft picks.
For Elliott, regaining the standard set at DBU is about the results on the field.
The total yardage numbers weren’t pretty in either of Elliott’s two seasons on the Forty Acres, but 2016 was particularly disappointing because of all the miscommunication and coverage busts.
Letting star wide receivers like Dede Westbrook run all over the field essentially unimpeded was something that surely turned the stomach of true DBU alums like Aaron Ross, Michael Huff, and Earl Thomas.
Whether Elliott needed it or not, the experience was a sobering reminder of how far the position group is from where it was a few short years ago.
So, what’s the solution?
Simple — hard work.
“If you want to be great, you have to put in the work,” Elliott said. “You have to always bring your playbook, always be in the film room — that’s how you become the greatest, that’s how we bring back DBU.”
One of the players emerging to help Elliott in that regard is former consensus five-star prospect Brandon Jones, who was the nation’s No. 1 safety out of Nacogdoches in 2016.
Despite the move of junior John Bonney from cornerback to boundary safety, Jones quickly jumped past his older counterpart to assume first-team duties with Elliott.
Now an older player, Elliott is helping Jones hone the work ethic he needs to maximize his incredible potential.
“I try to push him to stay in his playbook more,” Elliott said. “He’s catching along. He’s going to be a great player. Right now, he’s a good player but he has a lot to develop. Right now, I’m kind of pushing him along in that way. He’s strong, he can jump and do everything you want him to do.”
And so even though Jones has rather flown under the radar this spring given the rare combination created by his talent and work ethic, the Orange-White game on Saturday will provide a huge opportunity for the emerging young player to showcase his offseason development.
For Elliott, on the other hand, being in a position to mentor Jones is a result of his own dedication in the film room and overall commitment to the program.
As one of the closest players to former head coach Charlie Strong, the question with Elliott when new head coach Tom Herman arrived was how deeply he would buy into the new regime after connecting with Strong — was Elliott at Texas for Strong or for Texas?
However, it was hardly surprising to learn that the inseparable trio of Elliott, junior defensive end Charles Omenihu, and junior linebacker Malik Jefferson were among the first players to welcome to latest occupant in the Texas head coaching office.
Equally unsurprising was hearing Elliott relate how much he identified with Herman’s intensity, one of Elliott’s trademark traits.
“We just talked about what it was going to be like him being there and what standards he was going to have,” Elliott said. “He wanted to make sure he had people on the team who could lead this team and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
From physicality to communication to going hard all the time on and off the field to show leadership, Elliott is fully embracing the standards of DBU.
“I’m just trying to do what I can to get these wins. We need ‘em,” he said.
In the process, the hard-hitting enforcer known as the Kraken wants to make offenses aware of his intentions.
“Every play we’re going to come and hit you in your mouth. Every play — that’s what I want to be known for. I want them to be scared when they step on the field.”
The ghosts of DBU are stirring.