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Texas culture change trickling down to helmet decals

Horns players now have another incentive to improve.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most recognizable logos in all of sports was noticeably absent on Monday morning when the Texas Longhorns football players took to Denius Field for the first time this fall in preparation for the season opener against North Texas on August 30.

While new head coach Charlie Strong preaches to his players about putting the "T" back in Texas, with the T standing for toughness, among other things, the Horns themselves are working to put the horns back on their helmets.

Along with changes to the weight room, not allowing players to flash the "hook 'em horns" hand sign, and roping off the Longhorn logo in the locker room, Strong also removed the helmet decal for the first practice.

According to senior defensive end Cedric Reed, the decision to remove the decals came as a surprise to the players, but it didn't take them long to figure out the message being sent by their head coach.

"Coach Strong didn't really give us a heads up about that, we just got our helmets and were like, where is the logo at? No one asked Coach Strong, we already knew you have to earn the logo," said Reed. "That is one of those things, it's a mental thing where he isn't even going to say anything about it. He just wants us to know.

It's just another element of the ongoing culture change currently underway in Austin as Strong works to eradicate the complacency and lack of accountability that defined the end of the Mack Brown era and contributed mightily to the former coach's downfall.

Part of the process is already complete -- ridding the program of the types of players senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said at Big 12 Media Days don't love football. In all, Strong has dismissed seven players and suspended three more for  an as-yet unidentified period of time for breaking the program's core values.

Ongoing still is the work to put the T back in Texas, which is about more than just toughness, but also about other attributes the Horns didn't possess in great enough quantities in recent years.

"It's all about putting a team back into Texas. We talk about putting a team back into Texas, you talk about toughness, you talk about trust, talk about togetherness, and you talk about just becoming a team," Strong said at Big 12 Media Days.

"You can never become a team until you have toughness to you, and then you look at guys. You can't trust one another until you can trust yourself. And it's all just about coming together, just becoming a team that is exciting to watch."

Once the team comes closer to reaching that goal, Strong may allow them to throw up their horns again. In that area, it's about developing a respect for the program and what it means to be a part of it.

"I know some of you heard so much about he said that you can't hook 'em, he took the hook 'em away from the team," Strong said in Dallas in July. "But what I want them to understand, it's all about pride and it is all about pride within the program, where we throw up our hook 'em, it's going to mean something to us. And the players have to understand."

The other element to that process of understanding is appreciating what will become a game day tradition for Texas this season -- standing on the logo in the middle of the locker room.

"In the locker room right now, I have the hook 'em, it's right in the middle of the locker room." said Strong. "And I have -- it's roped off where they can't even walk on it. And the only time it will be removed is on game day. On game day when we come into the locker room, we stand on the hook 'em, we're going to go play and go play with pride and play for one another."

For a team that has notably lacked trust in the last several years, especially on defense, playing for one another would be a major step forward.

And right now, the players are learning not only to play for one another, but also for the right to have the Longhorns logo on their helmets and to throw their horns up.

If the togetherness doesn't happen as a result, it won't be for lack of incentives provided by Strong.