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As Breckyn Hager’s hair gets ever longer, his time is running out

The high-motor certified Wild Man has one last chance to reach his goal with the Longhorns.

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NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

About 34 months and some thousand or so days ago, the nation’s No. 1,546 prospect nationally made his way the short distance from Westlake to the University of Texas, his father’s alma mater.

At 6’4 and 220 pounds and with short blond hair, Breckyn Hager was perhaps still getting used to the idea of playing for the Longhorns. His father, Britt, made 499 career tackles at linebacker, a school record, including 187 tackles in 1987 to set a single-season record and then 195 the next season to set a mark that no Texas player is likely to ever break.

Neither of Breckyn’s older brothers had an opportunity to play for Texas — Bron played at North Texas and Bryce at Baylor. In fact, Breckyn was planning on following in his older brother’s footsteps by committing to the Bears. When the Longhorns offered in September of 2014, however, it took Breckyn less than two weeks to flip his pledge.

Breckyn Hager in high school

Charlie Strong believed in the youngest Hager and gave him a chance. Hager made his own decision not to cut his hair until the Longhorns win a Big 12 championship. He wants fellow Westlake alum Sam Ehlinger to do the honors on the field at AT&T Stadium on December 2.

Since Hager arrived on campus, however, Texas has finished fifth, sixth, and fourth in the conference, with 17 wins and 20 losses. That hair is really getting long.

If the lengthy locks don’t remind Hager well enough of time’s passage, the steady movement of the gold second hand on the Tower’s clock face is his metronome. Then, every 900 seconds, the bells in the Tower chime to mark another 15 minutes gone.

Only so many left now. Two hundred and thirty days. A few more than 22,000 chimes of that Tower bell.

“Every time I hear the UT Tower ding, my time’s running out,” Hager said on Thursday. “So I’ve got to bring it here, I’ve got to bring it with everything I’ve got, whether that’s in the weight room, practice, film room, I don’t care what it all is, I’m leaving it out there.”

In the 34 career games in which Hager’s played now, “leaving it out there” has never been a particular problem for him.

As a true freshman, Hager played in nine games at linebacker and on special teams, with his development slowed by a high ankle sprain that cost him four games during the middle of the season. Still, Hager managed 18 tackles and an interception on the season.

More notably, he didn’t always go in the direction he was supposed to go in, but he went where he was going with a relentless motor and bad intentions.

Strong moved Hager to the hybrid Fox end position as a sophomore. And though starter Naashon Hughes was more assignment-reliable, Hager quickly showed his ability as an edge rusher. Eventually, the play of Hager and freshman Malcolm Roach forced Strong to devise a Double Cheetah package that often used Hager and Roach as bookends.

Despite the fact Hager only started in five games, he still finished second on the team with 64 tackles (41 solo). Recording 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks topped Texas in both categories.

The Wild Man was truly unleashed. A little bit too much in the lead up to the Texas Tech game, it turned out, as Hager created a mini-controversy by suggesting he wanted to “injure” Red Raiders quarterback Pat Mahomes during the game.

That earned Hager a long sit down with Strong that resulted in an apology from Hager and a statement from the head coach pointedly stressing the aspects of sportsmanship that somehow deserted the sophomore for a moment.

As if Hager started that game, but only recorded two tackles during the contest — more evidence why there’s no much else to do before games except express respect for your opponent. Then the play can do the talking. Or not.

While that public mistake hardly dampened expectations for Hager heading into his junior season under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando in 2017, Hager’s spring practice performance was hardly promising.

“Intensity,” Herman said of what Hager brings. “You know, the guy goes really hard, which is probably not a surprise to any of us who’s ever seen his dad play. So I’m excited for Breckyn. I think this will be — it’s an important spring for everybody, but I think it’s important for him to solidify a major role.”

Orlando cross trained Hager at inside linebacker and the boundary B-backer position that was similar to his 2016 role under Strong. A shoulder injury limited Hager to one series during the Orange-White game, so he suddenly entered the summer as a little bit of a question mark.

Once again, Hughes earned the starting job ahead of Hager at B-backer, while Roach suffered a turf toe injury as he moved to defensive end. Through the first six games, Hager had four tackles in a reduced role. Where was he?

Taking Hughes off the field and starting to install the Lightning package after the Iowa State game benefited Hager tremendously, as he eventually started four games at defensive end next to Poona Ford and the Roach/Charles Omenihu tandem.

In the last seven games, Hager racked up eight of his nine tackles for loss and three of his four sacks. By the Texas Bowl, he’d earned the right to wear No. 60 in honor of legendary Longhorns linebacker Tommy Nobis, who passed away in December.

With four tackles, a tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery, Hager certainly did no dishonor to that number, one of only six retired at Texas.

After the game, he provided some extremely important perspective on where the team was in the aftermath of that bowl win.

“I think tonight, coach Herman won the locker room, 100 percent. He now has our hearts as a team. It’s like you hit the light switch, and everything has changed. ... It’s definitely up from here,” Hager said.

Since then, hearing that Tower bell ringing clearly helped push Hager in the weight room — he’s now up to 255 pounds, ranks second on the team with a 360-pound power clean, and has a 38-inch vertical. If Hager can really hit that vertical mark, it would put him right about where Malik Jefferson typically tests — that’s physical freak status.

Other than earning that distinction, Hager’s practice habits earned him praise from his head coach for setting the standard for his teammates. Last year, defensive tackle Poona Ford played that role. Now Hager is stepping into it.

“Breckyn’s been awesome,” Herman said last week. “Because of how hard he practices, he’s making (offensive tackle) Denzel Okafor better. He’s making (offensive tackle) Derek Kerstetter better. He’s making (tight ends) Andrew Beck and Reese Leitao better. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

So is Hager, but every 900 seconds, when he hears those Tower bells chime, he knows that December 2 is coming up on him hard and fast, one tick of that gold second hand at a time. There’s some hair that needs cutting.

NCAA Football: Texas at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports