Ehlinger’s confidence is high heading into senior season

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Quarterback Sam Ehlinger said the Texas offense is "at a really good spot" in its transition to the offense of new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich (photo courtesy of

AUSTIN, Texas — Sam Ehlinger has never been a player lacking in conviction or swagger, so when the Texas Longhorns’ erstwhile Heisman Trophy candidate and senior quarterback says he’s confident in his preparation in the run-up to the truncated and delayed 2020 college football season, it is a declaration that should be taken as a solid gold truth.

This is supposed to be Ehlinger’s year to shine, his time to be at the top of the Big 12 Conference’s heap of impressive signal-callers. The shortening of the season because of the spread of coronavirus has reduced Ehlinger’s chances to impress to 10 regular-season games and whatever postseason this Texas team will garner. 

Anyone discounting the quarterback’s moxie, well, just has not been paying attention over the past three years. Ehlinger met with the media Tuesday for the first time since the 14th-ranked Longhorns began preseason practice a week and a half ago. 

Ehlinger looked, and presented via the Zoom conference, like a man ready to lead his team to the success that has been predicted for it, a player comfortable in his skin and proven in the heat of battle. It has been Ehlinger’s job to be a leader on and off the field, and he continues to carry that mantle with Texas moving toward its Sept. 12 season opener versus UTEP.

He admitted it has been difficult in the face of the challenges created by COVID-19 to focus on some of the things the Longhorns are working to accomplish in 2020. Ehlinger, is, after all, only human.

“It's really hard with everything going on,” Ehlinger said. “Right now, the No. 1 goal for us is to stay healthy throughout the season, and not let an outbreak happen that prevents guys from ... being able to play.  

“I don't want to set any goals right now, because we're so focused on fall camp and getting better. Then, we'll reevaluate and be able to win when the season comes. We’ll be able to take it game by game.”

Ehlinger, who has had just a handful of practices under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, said he is happy with his progress in the preseason. The five months during which the Longhorns were unable to hold organized workouts pushed him to improve on his own, and allowed him to bring a new level of understanding and expectation into drills.

“The five months for me were huge. I really tried to control what I can control and take advantage of being at home and having a lot of off time,” he said. “At this point, I feel better than I ever have. I really, really like the offense. We're at a really good spot. Obviously, we have to continue to develop and continue to work together and get better, but I'm really content with where we're at.”

Ehlinger, along with junior defensive back Caden Sterns, was among the group of players consulted by the Big 12 Conference before the league decided to carry on with sports in the fall.

“Being a leader on the team, it's important that we continue to express that to the guys, (that) all the fun things in college will be there later, when we get through this season and this situation,” Ehlinger said. “Texas is taking the best care of us and has every single detail thought out to protect us from the virus. We feel comfortable being here — we feel more comfortable being here than if we were at home.”

The über-competitive quarterback said he hated that the Longhorns’ game at LSU was canceled when the Southeastern Conference went to a league-only schedule.

“So unfortunate — I was really looking forward to being able to go play at LSU, in that incredible environment, Ehlinger said. “Obviously it was a great game last year, and so I'm really, really upset that we're not going to be able to go there.”

Ehlinger also said he “felt bad” for the players on teams in the Big 10 Conference and Pacific 12 Conference who won’t be able to play this fall when their seasons were delayed, optimistically, to the spring of 2021.  

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to even play at this incredible university and play the sport that I love,” Ehlinger said. “I feel for for the guys and in the Big 10 in the Pac-12. It's extremely unfortunate. But, you know, we are trying to control what we can control, and keep our emotions in check.”

This is likely to be the last season in a Texas uniform for Ehlinger, who was asked if he needs to lead the Longhorns to a championship to solidify his place among the best quarterbacks to play on the 40 Acres

“My mission at the University of Texas was, and is, to leave the program better than it was when I got here,” he said. “That's kind of my mindset with everything that I do in life. So if in December, or whenever the season ends, and if I'm leaving, and the program is better than it was when I first got here, three-and-a-half years ago, then I would say that was a success in my mind.”

Steve Habel

Steve Habel is a senior contributing writer for Horns Illustrated. He has covered Texas sports since 1989 and was this magazine’s senior editor for 24 years. You can follow him on twitter @stevehabel .

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