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Which 2014 Texas seniors will be back for extra year of eligibility?

Some of the upside for the 2015 team will be determined by several possible returnees.

John Weast

As the Texas Longhorns have been hit with injuries this season, there are two seniors out for the season who could have a shot at returning next year and two more healthy seniors who could have the same opportunity because of previous injuries.

All told, that makes four starters that could return to bolster the 2015 squad.

Most of those players haven't discussed a return with the coaching staff at this time, according to head coach Charlie Strong, and some face an uphill battle to receive a waiver from the NCAA.

Let's break it down:

Wide receiver John Harris -- As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Harris missed all but three games as a result of a foot injury that he suffered in practice. After asking a trainer about the injury, he's believed that he wasn't eligible for a sixth season and said he hasn't thought about a possible return next season.

There are multiple issues working against Harris in this case -- he would have to prove that he wasn't cleared to return at the end of the 2011 season, even though he said on Monday that he was healthy enough to play by the season's end. And he would also have to prove that he redshirted as a result of an injury, which is not known to be the case.

The extent to which Harris could play in the NFL is still relatively unknown at this point and likely hampered by some inconsistent hands and his lack of production until this season, but it's unlikely that he would receive an extra season even if he did want to come back.

Harris also turned 23 on Tuesday and indicated that he's "old" and might want to let younger players have their opportunity to get on the field.

Center Dominic Espinosa -- The appeal from the longtime starter and Cedar Park product would also hinge on whether he was injured as a freshman.

So even though Espinosa will end up missing enough games to qualify this season, the redshirt year he took in 2010 would likely keep him from being able to return.

And the even more significant question is whether that's something that he wants. He's been helping junior center Taylor Doyle, the former guard, work on identifying defenses and making line calls, but there have been multiple reports that he's lost a significant amount of weight since his injury.

Some linemen are hard gainers and have difficulties keeping the weight if they aren't working out consistently and ingesting a massive amount of calories in their diet.

Take former offensive tackle Josh Cochran for instance -- Doyle said Monday that he's lost 80 pounds, which would put him around 220 pounds now after playing at 301 pounds as a junior.

It seems that Espinosa fits into that hard gainer category, which greatly increases the odds that he's played his last football, regardless of his injury status in 2010.

Linebacker Jordan Hicks -- The Ohio product indicated earlier in the season that he's already applied for a sixth season of eligibility after missing most of the 2012 season with a hip injury and the 2013 season with an Achilles injury. Since he didn't have a true redshirt season, it won't be hard for him to prove that it was his injuries that kept him off the field.

But the NFL is likely to come calling after the season, as Hicks has raised his stock by staying healthy and finally fulfilling the five-star potential that tantalized Texas fans for so many years. With 110 tackles, Hicks leads the team and the Big 12 conference, while his eight tackles for loss, two interceptions, and two passes defensed provide evidence of his playmaking ability.

As a result, he's currently projected just outside the top 20 outside linebackers in the country with a current draft grade between the fourth and sixth rounds by

Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson -- An ankle injury against UCLA in the season's third game sidelined the senior nose tackle with a lisfranc injury that needed surgery. He's already said that he wants to come back for another season. And since he never redshirted, he shouldn't have any issues getting a fifth year and playing for the Horns in 2015.

With junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown likely to make the jump to the NFL, Jackson's possible return would allow sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway to move back to his more natural position of three technique and let Jackson play next to him as the nose tackle for a defensive tackle group that won't exactly have ideal depth.


To summarize, neither Harris nor Espinosa have solid cases to return and neither one seems particularly intent on doing so, leaving Hicks and Jackson as the only two legitimate possibilities to suit up in burnt orange and white next season.

Since Hicks is a legitimate NFL prospect after his strong season, he'll most likely look to maximize his possible time in the league and make the jump instead of risking another injury in Austin next year.

So, of the four, it looks like Jackson is the only one who will be back.