There’s something quite different about the Texas Longhorns quarterback room this spring. It’s almost unrecognizable from the long-time norms on the Forty Acres.
Typically, constant chatter of a quarterback competition hangs like a cloud over the program this time of year, overshadowing all other topics of interest.
This spring, though, if you listen closely, you’ll hear, well… nothing.
There’s no praise for a former four-star freshman vying with an unproven vet for the role of QB1. There are no pleas from the Texas coaching staff for someone, anyone, to create separation and solidify the starting position.
This time around, seemingly for the first time since Colt McCoy’s final spring on the Forty Acres, Texas undoubtedly has its quarterback, and perhaps better yet, a bona fide budding star in junior Sam Ehlinger.
For a Texas program that has wandered through the quarterback wilderness for far too many offseasons, the utter importance of this finally coming to fruition simply can’t be overstated, especially considering the timing of Ehlinger’s rise into this role. To kick off the new year, Texas capped the program’s first 10-win campaign with a 28-21 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia in a showing capped by Ehlinger’s proclamation that Texas is, in fact, back.
Sam Ehlinger has a message for Texas fans pic.twitter.com/zWmYYHCV5V— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2019
“When he said that, I was like keep saying it. That’s the confidence this man exudes to the offense and to the whole team, and I’ve commended him so many times,” senior defensive end Charles Omenihu said after the Sugar Bowl of Ehlinger’s ‘We’re baaack’ proclamation. “And I’ll commend him again for just being the guy he is and the way he is because it’s really been transcending and inspiring to everybody on this whole team and the whole university.”
But quite unlike what Ehlinger says is now true of Texas, 13 senior starters that helped the Longhorns turn the proverbial corner are not back, nor is star slot receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. As expected, those departures leave the Longhorns looking to replace a tremendous amount of leadership.
Naturally, all eyes shift towards Ehlinger, who’s set to enter his junior season as not only a confidence-instilling, self-assured alpha male of sorts, as Texas head coach Tom Herman likes to say, but as arguably the top quarterback in the conference. It’s been at least an entire decade since anyone could accurately suggest such praise for anyone quarterbacking in burnt orange, but there is evidence to that end as Ehlinger’s 41 total touchdowns trail only McCoy’s 45 in 2008 for the most in school history, and his 3,292 passing yards mark the third-most among all returning Power 5 quarterbacks, behind only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (3,966) and Stanford’s K.J. Costello (3,540).
Though things began to trend this way towards the end of the 2018 season as Ehlinger amassed such stats, Texas is unquestionably his team now — something maybe no Longhorn has been able to boast since McCoy departed a decade ago — even if Ehlinger doesn’t quite see it that way.
As spring practice got underway, Ehlinger was asked if Texas was his team, to which he responded, “no, this is our team.”
“That’s what you want from a leader; a guy that defers the praise to his teammates and that shoulders maybe some unnecessary blame when things don’t go well,” Herman said of Ehlinger during a recent post-practice media availability. “That was something we didn’t have to teach him. He understands that he’s got the ultimate respect of the guys on this team and he doesn’t need to say it, brag about it, whatever.”
In other words, what’s understood doesn’t need to be explained.
This spring mark’s Ehlinger’s third on the Forty Acres, yet for the first time, he isn’t fighting to earn his fair share of first-team reps. He isn’t tasked with proving himself to a locker room that may not be entirely sure if he’s the guy capable of quarterbacking the Texas program back to prominence, as may have been the case last spring after Ehlinger’s 3-4 record as a starter in 2017.
Between then and now, Ehlinger cemented one of the greatest single seasons in school history. Far more importantly though, he solidified himself as the quarterback at Texas — so much so that former starter Shane Buechele and former four-star prospect Cameron Rising have each transferred out of the program with the quarterback job no longer in question.
For a Texas program’s that’s been all but forced to throw one freshman into the fire after another throughout the past decade, with Buechele and Ehlinger just the most recent examples, there is no better news.