The long, winding football journey of Texas Longhorns super senior safety Brenden Schooler has now come full circle.
A two-sport and occasional two-way standout at several different high schools in Dana Point, California, Schooler signed with Oregon as a defensive back in the 2016 recruiting class after recording 91 tackles and three interceptions as a senior.
Lightly regarded as a low three-star prospect barely ranked inside the top 2,000 players nationally, Schooler quickly made an impact in Eugene, starting 10 games as a true freshman and finishing third on the team with 74 tackles while ranking third among all FBS true freshmen with four interceptions.
Schooler spent the next three seasons, including an injury-plagued 2019 campaign in which he was limited to only three games, playing wide receiver for the Ducks after catching the eye of new head coach Mario Cristobal while catching passes.
The original plan was to spend his final season playing with his brother, Collin, at Arizona, but Schooler went looking for a new destination when the Pac-12 initially pushed the 2020 football season to the spring, ultimately landing at Texas.
Schooler got off to a strong start on the Forty Acres, catching two passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in the opener against UTEP and then racking up seven catches for 58 yards and another touchdown against Texas Tech. A deep thigh contusion derailed his season, however, contributing to Schooler missing the Oklahoma State game and only recording three catches for 17 yards after his quick start.
With a new coaching staff at Texas and a need at safety, Steve Sarkisian moved Schooler back to his old position of safety and Schooler readjusted quickly, starting with the first-team defense in the Orange-White game and maintaining that position through preseason camp.
Schooler considers it his more natural position.
“I definitely feel more comfortable at safety than I do receiver — I love playing receiver, don’t get me wrong it’s pretty fun scoring touchdowns — but out of high school I was recruited as a safety so just played defense all my high school career with a little sprinkled in receiver,” Schooler said this week.
it showed in the Orange-White game when Schooler broke up a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone and finished with three tackles.
Now he’s trying to bring a blue-collar, lunch-pail mentality to the safety position as he replaces the departed Chris Brown and settles in next to senior BJ Foster. With defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski often preferring to play with one deep safety and a safety in or near the box, Schooler is typically filling the role of the single deep safety.
“They always have that deep safety and he just gets to roam the field and have fun and with Coach Joseph coming from Notre Dame he’s installed some really cool coverages that I think will be beneficial for us where we can just fly around and make a bunch of plays,” Schooler said.
As a sixth-year player, Schooler is particularly focused on communicating with the rest of the defense to ensure that no one is out of position, especially himself.
“I think the biggest emphasis for myself, and I can speak on the behalf of the secondary, is communication, because it all starts to in the back end if we’re wrong, and they squirt on through the you know the front line and linebackers, we have to be back there to clean it up and if we don’t communicate and we’re rolled down to the wrong side, that could be catastrophic and turn into a touchdown,” Schooler said.
As Schooler and Foster have gotten comfortable working together and developed a level of trust, some of that communication isn’t even verbal.
“I think with us old heads back there, we kind of work off each other pretty well — we can look at each other and give each other a look and we know who’s rolling down, we know who’s doing what,” Schooler said. “So I think having him back there gives me confidence as well to play free and and know that the safety next to me is going to do his job.”
Sarkisian likes to joke about Schooler’s long journey sometimes, telling the sixth-year player he’s probably heard every speech Sarkisian could give to the team, but the Texas head coach is also appreciative of what Schooler brings to the team.
“I love his approach,” Sarkisiasn said on Thursday. “I think he’s a guy who appreciates his opportunity. He’s a very smart player, he’s headsy, I think he communicates really well. And obviously because of his experience on offense and on defense, I think he has a really high football IQ. So all those things add up to him being a really valuable piece of the puzzle for us defensively and on special teams.”
As much impact as Schooler can have on the defense, he can also have an equal impact on special teams. While the injury limited him last season in that area, he was a first-team Pac-12 special teams player in 2017 and 2018. So look for him to have a role on multiple special teams units.
And for Schooler to play a big role as the last line of defense in his sixth and final season of college football.