“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,” an emotional Breckyn Hager said in late December.
The Texas Longhorns had just defeated the Missouri Tigers with a resounding 33-16 victory in the Texas Bowl.
In that moment, weeks of rumors suggesting that many players were unhappy seemed to melt away.
Six months later, Hager’s statement still seems to contain a tremendous amount of truth — the Longhorns haven’t suffered that rumored attrition amid an unusually small number of transfers and other departures.
Both of the seniors who could have left as graduate transfers decided to stick with the Longhorns program, stopping what had become a yearly trend. The two major contributors among the three players suspended for the Texas Bowl opted to remain, though tight end Garrett Gray did leave the program and give up his final season of eligibility.
The only transfer since the season ended was wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, a signifiant loss since he had emerged as one of the pass catchers who could consistently gain yards after the catch.
Still, not having any post-spring transfers is highly unusual. None of the older players who are buried on the depth chart opted to leave. There weren’t any academic casualties. None of the players clashed with the coaches before opting for a fresh start.
In fact, since Texas added two graduate transfers in left tackle Calvin Anderson and Tre Watson, the Longhorns have actually managed to improve outside of the 2018 recruiting class since that Texas Bowl victory, achieving a net loss of zero players.
The entirety of the recruiting class that signed in December and February is already on campus, ensuring that there won’t be any attrition due to grades, as happened last year with wide receiver Damion Miller. Both graduate transfers are also in Austin, unlike the late arrival of tight end Kendall Moore in 2017.
The major turnover occurred prior to the bowl game. In addition to several players turning pro, running back/H-back Chris Warren III left the program and a number of offensive linemen stepped away from the game, including starter Jake McMillon and key reserve Terrell Cuney. Garrett Thomas and Alex Anderson also opted to move on.
Under a new coaching staff, attrition often remains high after the first season and the loss of two contributors along the offensive line will limit depth some this year, but wasn’t nearly as devastating as the offensive line losses in Charlie Strong’s second offseason.
In 2015, the Longhorns didn’t suffer an extraordinarily high level of attrition, but the departures were especially concentrated along the offensive line. Former four-star prospect Curtis Riser officially left the program, as did Desmond Harrison, the nation’s top junior college offensive lineman the year before and an NFL talent with more football ability than ability to stay out of trouble. Former five-star prospect Darius James transferred to Auburn before becoming a starter for the Tigers in 2017. Starting left tackle Kennedy Estelle was dismissed early in the season.
Tight end MJ McFarland left as a graduate transfer to reduce depth at that position, which is perennially thin.
So while the news about McMillon and Cuney was disappointing at that time, the rumored mass exodus never occurred and the losses were much less significant than those suffered by Strong and his staff. As Herman works to build more quality depth along the offensive line, overall program depth is in a good position, aided by the quiet six months since the Texas Bowl.