Extra year of eligibility has Texas football players feeling some freedom

22 Aug By
Texas football head coach Tom Herman said the NCAA's decision to grant an extra year of eligibility should reduce players' concern about playing in 2020 because all players will have at least one more season in which to play (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — Thanks to the impact of coronavirus, the Texas football team is part of a grand experiment this season: the Longhorns are scheduled to play 10 games, and likely will get at least one more, in a campaign that won’t cost any of their players a minute of eligibility.

Let’s let that sink in a minute. Yes, the games will count in the standings and the team can play for a national championship, but if a player is a junior in 2020, he’ll keep the same status in 2021, with a season of college football under his belt and those experiences honed from a year of play in the Big 12 helping him next season.

For the players, it’s like a season-long present — that is, as long as playing doesn’t result in them catching COVID-19 or spreading it to their teammates or competitors.

Texas coach Tom Herman discussed that mindset, among other topics, Saturday following the Longhorns' practice and second scrimmage of the preseason. The team is at halftime, as it were, in its preparation for its season-opener Sept. 12 against UTEP.

Herman said the NCAA’s announcement on eligibility, which was approved Friday by its board, has allowed the players a bit of freedom and removed the load of their collective back of fear of injury in what will be a truncated campaign.

“Now, if there is not a season, that fear is very diminished compared to where it was two weeks ago with (it),” Herman said. “It's given a lot of these guys some confidence, for sure.”

Despite the schedule changes and the practice hurdles created by the coronavirus situation, the Longhorns are moving forward in their preparation. The players were given two-and-a-half days off after Saturday’s scrimmage, a short respite in the run-up to the first game.

“We’ve got to be ready to play a game on Sept. 12,” Herman remarked.

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Herman admitted that the team is a little behind a normal level of fitness and execution this preseason because of the COVID-created lack of spring drills and the overall delay before the games. After all, a decision to go forward with the season was not even officially declared until two weeks ago.

“We are definitely getting back into shape on the fly, really, and we are trying to be very cognizant of the shape that our guys are in,” Herman said. “You know, make sure that we build them smartly towards game one, and we feel like we've done it that. Obviously, you're never going to eliminate any and all injuries.

“But we are certainly cognizant of the fact that their bodies ... they're not where they have been in the past at this point. We want to make sure that we still instill our culture of physicality and toughness, so when we do put full pads on, you know we got to get a lot of work in in a very limited time.”

Herman said Saturday’s scrimmage was “much better” than the team’s first one (Aug. 15) and that the team had about 30 plays today — which amounts to about a quarter and a half. 

“Today was so much cleaner than last week, and that's really encouraging,” he said.

Former Texas running back Cedric Benson died in a motorcycle crash on Aug. 12 a year ago. Herman was asked about Benson and if he was thinking about him today.

“We miss him a lot. Cedric was really good ambassador for Texas football,” Herman said, "and, you know, anytime a person leaves this earth at that age, you know you always want to ask, you know, 'what would he be doing today?' If he were with us ... he’s one of the great Longhorns, at least in recent history, and you think about it, as we have done today."

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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 .