The Texas Longhorns seniors who are set to play their final game at Darrell K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday quite likely won’t be remembered as they should be.
One-by-one, before their final game on the Forty Acres, each of the 26 seniors will be announced. Fans in attendance will stand and cheer, and in that brief moment, those seniors will feel like the pride of the Longhorns. As they should.
But as winter turns to spring and the 2019 season slowly creeps up on us all, slowly but surely, fans likely won’t remember these Texas seniors — not the way they should, at least. Not the way this class deserves to be remembered.
And I hate that for this group of seniors, but that’s the unfortunate reality. It sucks. Because this group of Texas seniors deserves better.
They’ll get what they deserve, but only for a few moments on Saturday night, and even then, even with 100,000-plus at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium standing and saying thank you with a round of applause, they’ll still deserve better.
Who could forget Jerrod Heard’s game against Cal in 2015 when he broke Vince Young’s record for yards in a single game when he accounted for 527 yards of total offense, or his selfless we-before-me attitude when he was redshirted 2014 and then eventually moved to wide receiver before eventually being shuffled down the depth chart at the wide receiver position?
You, that’s who.
Who could forget Patrick Vahe’s celebration in the locker room after the Longhorns shutdown Baker Mayfield and the Sooners in the Red River Showdown?
You, that’s who.
Who could forget Breckyn Hager’s growth into the team leader he has become, or the year Andrew Beck has had, emerging as a huge weapon in Texas’ passing game after overcoming injury after injury?
You, that’s who.
You’ll stand and cheer. You’ll swear you won’t forget these guys. You’ll even share a story and talk about how important these guys have been — this group who stuck around through a complete circus at times.
But you won’t remember them. Not the way they deserve to be remembered.
Because when this era of Texas football comes to an end — and, folks, “Texas is back!” aside, this program does indeed appear to be trending in the right direction — you’ll remember it for everything that it wasn’t.
You’ll remember the thumping Texas took at Notre Dame and TCU in 2015. You’ll remember 2015 and 2016, back-to-back seasons of 5-7 football. You’ll mark this era as “the post-Mack Brown, Charlie Strong experiment era.”
You’ll never let go of the loss to Kansas, when the Jayhawks earned their first win over an FBS team for the first time since the year 545 B.C. at the expense of Texas, a stain that will forever be a part of this class as much as it will always be a punchline on the program.
At this rate, I would be shocked if you remember Chris Nelson’s belly rub celebration, or Hager’s golden, rockstar, free-flowing hair, and the way he honored Texas legends with his performances wearing the famed No. 60, or Charles Omenihu bypassing the NFL to emerge as Texas’ most formidable edge-rushing threat.
If Texas beats Iowa State on Saturday, it will be the first Longhorns win on Senior Night since 2013, but you won’t remember these seniors. If Texas wins the final two games of the season and West Virginia beats Oklahoma, and the Longhorns head to Dallas for the Big 12 Championship, you still won’t remember these seniors.
Not the way they deserve to be remembered, at least.
You’ll remember the underclassmen like freshman safety Caden Sterns and sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, or junior wide receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson. You’ll merely note the names in this senior class; names like the aforementioned Omenihu, Hager, Nelson, Vahe, or Gary Johnson, Anthony Wheeler, Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke III, who played big roles on this team during Tom Herman’s first two seasons of turn-it-around-football.
You’ll remember the last two seasons, the prime years for this senior class on the field, as the beginning of the Tom Herman era, which brought forth the rise of younger Longhorns.
For all intents and purposes, you wouldn’t be wrong to remember it that way. But these seniors, this group that owns a 24-23 record entering Saturday — 30-30 for fifth-year seniors — won’t be remembered.
Not the way it deserves to be remembered, at least.
The tough truth about college football is it has this incredible ability to eliminate the rational thought process. Everything is wins and losses, losses and wins. Everything is watch lists and awards, statistics, and draft stock.
And when a group like this Texas group — these seniors who deserve better than to be remembered how they’ll be remembered — has lost games they shouldn’t have lost and compiled more infuriating defeats than gratifying wins, it’s hard to realize the appreciation they should forever receive from Longhorns fans.
Nobody from this class will have an athletic facility named after him, or a number retired, barring some incredible career in the NFL. And even then, even if one of these seniors goes to the NFL and becomes legendary, he will be a guy from a class with all of the aforementioned hardships.
Remembered, but not the way they deserve to be remembered.
“It’s awesome. We have a great group of captains in Andrew Beck and Elijah Rodriguez and Breckyn Hager and Chris Nelson and Anthony Wheeler,” Herman said on Monday of the senior leadership the Longhorns have this season. “Those guys have seen a lot in their time here on the Forty Acres, been through a lot. Sacrificed a lot.”
“It’s not just them. You asked about the senior leaders. You can go to Charles Omenihu, you can go to Gary Johnson, you can go to P.J. Locke, you can go to Kris Boyd, you can go to — I’m sure I’m leaving some out here, but that senior class has been very dialed in,” Herman added.
“Jerrod Heard, he was our offensive MVP for the way that he played and was able to switch positions in the course of two days and come up huge for us throughout the night. So these guys realize, I think, more than the young guys, how different this team is compared to teams of the past, teams that they’ve been associated with.”
In an era of transferring when playing time is scarce, or when the role of a player is shifted, or when the coach who recruited you has been fired, these Texas seniors should be what we remember most about Longhorns football.
They stayed through the coaching change. They took the 5-7 seasons on the chin. They came to the Texas Bowl and treated it like a College Football Playoff game. They bounced back from the Maryland loss and won six straight and brought Texas back into the national conversation in ways it hadn’t been in nearly 10 years. They beat Oklahoma. Twice. They committed to Texas, not the playing time they expected, or the success they envisioned, or the coach who sat in their living room.
Whatever Texas becomes going forward, this senior class will have largely help lay the foundation. If things play out as planned within the locker room, this senior class will have played a significant role in Texas ultimately enjoying its most successful season in nearly a full decade.
That may not ultimately be how this senior class is remembered, but that’s what they deserve, as least.