Entering Saturday’s season opener against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, the Texas Longhorns had a script. Not the typical offensive script, but one for the coin toss, the first defensive possession, and the ensuing punt.
And for the first time since arriving at Texas in 2018, senior cornerback D’Shawn Jamison wasn’t a part of the plan on the punt team as a return man.
After the game, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian explained the plan — if the Longhorns won the toss, they were going to defer to the second half, then the defense was going to get a three and out, and the punt team was going to block the kick, led by Jamison.
Check. Check. And check.
“[Special teams] coach [Jeff] Banks told him he was gonna block it if this is how they blocked it,” Sarkisian said.
Texas got the protection look they wanted — three personal protectors in front of the punter for Louisiana-Monroe. Senior running back Roschon Johnson and senior safety Anthony Cook helped clear the way for Jamison, who burst through the middle of the protection and took the punt off his chest.
Junior running back Keilan Robinson did the rest, scooping up the ball and scoring to give the Longhorns the lead with less than two minutes.
The blocked punt represented quite the role reversal for a fifth-year senior who entered the season with 46 career punt returns, including a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against Kansas State in 2018.
But Banks and the coaching staff had a different vision for Jamison’s speed.
“I think one thing for DJ, throughout his career he’s thought of on special teams as a returner, right? And that’s been kind of his role and we’ve been kind of banging the drum with him, Coach Banks and myself, Coach [Terry] Joseph about, there’s more to his game just than being a returner — he can have an impact on this game on special teams and a lot of variety of ways.”
It only took one play for Jamison to prove that coaches correct.
“Obviously he showed it — we’ve never seen him block a punt rushing a punt because he’s always been the guy back returning and we saw tonight the impact that he could have,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian believes that Jamison’s buy-in matters to the rest of the team and is also an indication of a wider commitment during the second season under this coaching staff.
“I think there’s a great appreciation for DJ that way because our team knows, man, he would love to be the returner, but yet we’re asking something different of him,” Sarkisian said. “And so for the first punt of the season, for him to be the guy to block it... he trusted it and went and did it. And so I think that speaks volumes to the buy in on our team of guys willing to do more when things are asked to them and DJ did that.”
After Texas was only able to produce seven interceptions last season, tied for 104th nationally, the Longhorns entered the season counting on Jamison to build on his four career interceptions and be a more consistent playmaking force in the secondary as the starting field cornerback.
In the middle of the third quarter, Jamison came through, picking off a tipped pass and returning it 69 yards for a touchdown, becoming the first player in school history to return a punt, a kickoff, and an interception for a touchdown.
It was the kind of play that Jamison made consistently throughout preseason camp.
“Obviously, he’s got great ball skills in the secondary and then what he did tonight on the interception for the touchdown, I probably saw three or four times this training camp,” Sarkisian said. “He just seems kind of like the guy that’s Johnny on the spot, tips and overthrows, we say it all the time, you’ve got to have those and he’s been one of the mainstays, one of the guys who was making those plays in training camp and it showed up again tonight.”
Jamison’s ability to be in the right spot at the right time has convinced teammates like senior linebacker DeMavion Overshown that Jamison possesses some type of lucky talisman.
“Man, we always say there’s got to be a horseshoe somewhere inside that man, but he was making plays like that all fall camp so I knew it was coming,” Overshown said. “I didn’t know when or what play was coming, but I knew he was gonna have the luck of the Irish and like I said, he’s one of those players that we expect to make those big-time plays in big-time moments and he was able to do that.”
The coaches also challenged Jamison to become a more physical presence on the perimeter and the Houston Lamar product flashed in that area, too, contributing to a tackle for loss by setting the edge on a sweep play.
With 31 starts over 48 games entering the season, Texas needed growth from one of its most experienced defenders and Jamison showed flashes of it on Saturday, as well as the unexpected ability to serve as more than just a return man on special teams.
The Shark looks ready to feed in 2022.