At this time a year ago, it was unclear if Texas had a single long-term quarterback on the Forty Acres. Today, Tom Herman’s Longhorns appear positioned for passing productivity for years to come.
Early enrollee Sam Ehlinger is already on campus officially signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, joining freshman record-setter Shane Buechele as year-one options for Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
Welcome to the Texas family Sam Ehlinger! #TexasStampede #HookEm #NSD17 pic.twitter.com/wLoMV7XyK8— Texas Football (@Longhorn_FB) February 1, 2017
There was rarely ever any question regarding Ehlinger’s long-time commitment to Texas: Playing for the Longhorns has been a lifelong dream of his. After picking up an offer following his sophomore season, Ehlinger committed to Texas before a monster junior season in which he passed for 3,822 yards and rushed for another 1,360 with 50 total touchdowns. He never visited any other programs and held only five offers, as it was well known that he was headed just up the road from Austin’s Westlake high school for college.
While the burnt orange nation spent the 2016 season watching as Buechele became the answer to a more than half-decade long quarterback drought in Austin, Ehlinger was looking to follow up a junior season in which he outperformed each of the state’s more highly-ranked quarterbacks.
“Ehlinger averaged more passing yards per game (239.6) and total yards per game (324.6), making him the only 300-yard-plus performer of the quarterbacks in question. Additionally, Ehlinger boasted the lowest interception rate (1.2%) and the second-highest QB rating (128.5), trailing Mond’s 155.8 rating.”
Those plans were immediately derailed, though. In Westlake’s season opener versus Katy — the program Westlake fell to in the state championship during his junior season — Ehlinger’s spectacular showing was blemished by a pair of torn meniscus; one in each knee, causing him to miss the first half of the season.
“I learned so many leadership qualities and just different stuff off the field that you really don’t think about when you’re playing,” Ehlinger said of his time sidelined with injuries. “Obviously, it wasn’t the way that I would like for it to go [getting hurt] but you live and you learn.”
Ehlinger connects on his 4th TD pass of the 1st quarter. Says "I'm back" as he runs to sideline #HookEm— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) October 1, 2016
Ehlinger’s high school career concluded with another pair of injuries as he broke his right thumb and then later suffered a wrist injury in the playoffs versus Laredo United, allowing him to play in just five of 14 games. After three seasons at Westlake, Ehlinger compiled more than 9,000 total yards of offense and 113 touchdowns with his arm and legs.
Now on the Forty Acres, competing against a quarterback that passed for nearly 3,000 yards and started all 12 games, Ehlinger is well aware of which areas he needs to improve upon.
“In Coach Herman’s offense, my speed can always get better,” Ehlinger said of his areas of focus this offseason. “The accuracy aspect of my passing game. Everything overall, from accuracy to footwork speed and quickness.”
As Ehlinger noted, his improvement will be part of an iron-sharpen-iron offseason as a widely debated quarterback battle gets underway in Austin, once again — one he’s prepared for.
“I think Shane is a great quarterback,” Ehlinger said of Buechele. “He has that great arm and he fit Coach Gilbert’s offense really, really well. I would love the chance to compete against him. He’s a great guy and a great quarterback and competition is always good. Either way, we’re going to make each other better and at the end of the day, the best quarterback is going to play and the best quarterback needs to play. I hope that I get better and he gets better and may the best man win.”
Depending on whom you ask, Ehlinger will either emerge as the better fit in Herman’s offense, which requires a quarterback to make plays with his arm and legs alike, serve as Buechele’s backup and potentially secure a redshirt season, and become an emergency option behind Buechele, redshirt sophomore Matthew Merrick and possibly even former quarterback Jerrod Heard to ensure his prolonged eligibility.
In any case, between Buechele and now Ehlinger, the future of the position in Austin looks much brighter than it did at this time a year ago.
A four-star signee, Ehlinger ranked as the nation’s No. 119 player, No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 20 player in Texas, per 247Sports Composite.