These were the players and recruits who thought that they were going to play for offensive coordinator Greg Davis or defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The fifth-year seniors did play for Davis and Muschamp, and were redshirting freshmen (with the exception of linebacker Jordan Hicks) during the second-worst football banquet in recent Texas history when Muschamp told the team, and visiting recruits who were to sign with the 2011 class, that he was leaving Austin to become the head coach at Florida.
The offensive players redshirted under or were recruited by Davis, played under Bryan Harsin, then Major Applewhite, and, for some, are now learning their fourth system in five years.
The defensive players redshirted under (with the exception of Hicks) or were recruited by Muschamp, played under Manny Diaz, then Greg Robinson, and now are learning their fourth system in five years.
All that without mentioning ending of an era last fall and everything else that accompanied the resignation of former head coach Mack Brown, including the worst football banquet of modern Texas history.
Their careers were marked by instability and turnover and decay. Defections. Losses.
Here are those 32 seniors who will be honored:
- Running back Eddie Aboussie
- Defensive back Brandon Allen
- Quarterback David Ash
- Defensive back Cody Boswell
- Deep snapper Nate Boyer
- Running back Malcolm Brown
- Linebacker Demarco Cobbs
- Offensive tackle Josh Cochran
- Tight end Greg Daniels
- Punter/placekicker Michael Davidson
- Cornerback Quandre Diggs
- Linebacker Steve Edmond
- Center Dominic Espinosa
- Wide receiver Chris Giron
- Offensive lineman Garrett Greenlea
- Wide receiver Dakota Haines
- Wide receiver John Harris
- Linebacker Jordan Hicks
- Defensive back Devin Huffines
- Linebacker Tevin Jackson
- Quarterback Miles Onyegbule
- Placekicker Ben Pruitt
- Defensive end Cedric Reed
- Cornerback Ryan Roberts
- Punter William Russ
- Wide receiver Jaxon Shipley
- Tight end Geoff Swaim
- Tight end Chris Terry
- Wide receiver David Thormann
- Linebacker Kendall Thompson
- Defensive back Mykkele Thompson
- Defensive back Josh Turner
Coming into this season, the instability and all those losses defined this group. Including the fifth-year players, the team has gone only 36-26 over those five years, representing the final throes of the Mack Brown era and the rough beginning of the Charlie Strong era.
But the players still healthy enough to compete against the Horned Frogs on Thursday are the survivors, the guys who didn't transfer or fall by the wayside because of injuries or get dismissed by Strong.
And so they've had an opportunity. Not an opportunity to post a season of double-digit wins since the last group of fifth-year seniors, but to help mold the young players and set an example they can follow into what will hopefully be the ascension of the Charlie Strong era and the return of Texas football to national relevance and competitiveness.
For guys like Quandre Diggs and Jordan Hicks and Cedric Reed and Jaxon Shipley, it was about coming together and finishing the right way. And so they did. When it came time that their careers would be defined, they became the voice of Strong to the team and it all started to come together. There was more trust. More confidence. And ultimately, as the wins started coming, more fun.
There have been incredible stories like the emergence of John Harris. Unless he gets hurt or somehow shut down more than anyone has shut him down this season, the senior will rack up the 24 receiving yards needed to become the first 1,000-yard receiver at Texas since Jordan Shipley in 2009.
Strong has certainly enjoyed watching Harris' talent finally blossom.
"That's what's so great when you see guys like that step up and start just believing in their own confidence and believing in their ability that they have."
It's about Strong building trust with players like Edmond and getting them to come out of their shell, showing the younger players that they too can trust the coaches.
"I talk with him because now he comes around the office all the time," Strong said of the notoriously quiet Edmond.
"He'll walk in the meeting and sit down and want to talk. You never could get that from him before."
Put it all together, and the seniors bringing the team together and executing and winning and having fun playing football has built a foundation for the future, a point that Strong made clear to his team recently.
"I had them stand up and told them to face the team, and said to this senior group, 'A foundation has been laid in this program, but what you're building right now is for that group behind you. Now that they've seen you battle through it, then they know how to fight and they know how to battle through, and they know how to keep fighting. Once that happens within, you know how to overcome it, good things are going to happen.'"
The life lessons learned in the year under Strong have already been inculcated in players like Josh Turner, one of those initially thought dismissed in the Purge, but eventually reinstated after fulfilling the conditions of his suspension.
In an interview for an internship, Turner had the epiphany that the interviewer was talking about leadership ability, about core values.
And so the Texas head coach recounted his conversation with the player he nearly had to dismiss, which began with Strong asking Turner whether the defensive back believed the coach when he was talking about core values.
"He said, 'No, I believe you, but just to hear someone say it, it's amazing to hear how someone will talk about what you're talking about. When you step out in the real world, that's really what's going to happen to you.' I said, 'Yes, Josh, that's really what's going to happen to you.'"
Harris realized that he had a resilience that he might not have known had he quit football or transferred somewhere else. Mykkele Thompson realized that he could be more physical on the football field than he could have ever imagined. Cedric Reed developed an appreciation for the value of his degree.
Because of the resilience that ultimately defined Harris and the rest of the seniors, Strong had a personal message to them.
"I'm sorry that this had to be that group," Strong said. "I would have loved to walk out of here with an undefeated team walking into this week with a senior class and walk out with a double digit win. I would have loved for that to happen with this team, and it didn't. But I'm so happy that you guys were.....you held it together for us."
Yet, In the process of getting to 6-5 and bowl eligible they learned something about the world and they learned something important about themselves.
As usual, it was Diggs who had the statement that best sums up the experience of he and his classmates.
"We went through some tough times, but at the same time, I've met some of my best friends in the world here," said Diggs. "I have friendships that will last forever. A coaching staff that I think the world of because those guys that we have now, they really do care about us as people. They respect us as young men, and we have the same respect for them."
At the same time, we didn't win as many football games as I wanted to, but I think we are turning this thing around, and I'm glad to be the foundation. That will always be our history because I really think Coach Strong is going to get this thing turned around."
Hook 'em, seniors. Now go on and change the world.