For all of the historic success that Texas Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele experienced during his freshman season — the sensational debut against Notre Dame, the nearly 3,000 yards passing — his confidence level as a leader never matched up with his production on the field.
By nature, the mild-mannered Buechele is more Clark Kent than Superman, but new head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck have been pushing Buechele to rip open his shirt to reveal that big “S” on his chest.
“Last year he was a true freshman that was just trying to keep his head above water,” Herman said at Big 12 Media Days. “This year we've challenged him, and I think that's — it's difficult for him because, A, he still sees himself as kind of the young kid. He's a true sophomore. But, B, he's a very humble, very mild-mannered kind of guy.
“We've challenged him, we've taught him, we've explained things to him that for him to take the next step in his growth, one of those things is going to have to be to continue to lead the culture of the team.”
Having an older quarterback in Tyrone Swoopes around allowed Buechele to step back from a leadership role, but now he’s one of only two scholarship players at the position and has to mentor freshman Sam Ehlinger.
“His leadership is one of the things that he has progressed in leaps and bounds in that area,” Beck said at the THSCA convention this week. “I think that part of it was that he was a true freshman last year, had Tyrone around him as a senior and a leader, he just kind of took the best. He's out there now right at the front, so that part of it has been impressive.”
Herman described Buechele’s development as “marvelous” in that regard, but Beck has seen growth from Buechele in areas other than just his leadership ability.
Always known as a gym rat and hard worker, Buechele’s time in the program has helped him develop a deeper grasp of the offense. In the offense run by Sterlin Gilbert last season, which famously didn’t even feature a playbook, the staff understood that Buechele’s needed things to be kept from being too complex.
Now he’s capable of grasping the more complex pro-style spread run by Beck.
“First of all, his knowledge of the game, he continues to study and get better,” Beck said. “As a young player when he came out of high school, I think they tried to keep things really simple for him as a true freshman playing and I see his development, that he was able to grasp our system when he came in and then be able to apply it, and it's grown even through the summer.”
Beck likes to employ what he calls direct teaching — Buechele can now get up on the board in the position room and Beck doesn’t have to lead the questions. Instead, Buechele can explain the intricacies of the offense himself.
Like many players on the team, Buechele has also seen serious results from working with strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight since his arrival, a major priority for the team during the offseason.
As a freshman, Buechele was listed at 191 pounds and had difficulties dealing with the physical grind of the college football season, suffering rib and thumb injuries that reduced his effectiveness at the end of the year.
Now listed at 205 pounds, Buechele is significantly stronger heading into his sophomore season.
“He's gained weight, which was one of the things that we needed him to do to be able to withstand and all quarterbacks will get hit on the course of the season, to be able to do that,” Beck said. “I know that last year, that was one of the things for him.”
Beck also wants his scholarships quarterbacks to take care of their arms during preseason camp and throughout the season because both will receive a high number of reps in practice since there the only other players at the position are walk ons.
In that regard, the increased strength of Buechele should help keep him from experiencing the type of fatigue that could impact the younger Ehlinger.
Overall, senior linebacker Naashon Hughes sees Buechele as one of the most improved players on the entire team.
“I made a joke about it earlier. In high school I played a little quarterback and I was like, ‘If I had about 60 percent of Shane’s throwing talent, I think I could play D1 quarterback.’ He’s made a huge, tremendous jump in actually his game, his leadership, and his maturity levels as well. Glad to see him making a big jump and expecting a lot from him this year.”